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Everybody In Our Family: Berlin Film Review

Berlinale Film Festival Everybody in our Family - H 2012

The Bottom Line

Much-hyped Romanian New Wave director’s broken-family comedy-drama succumbs to sophomore slump.

 

Venue

Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 12, 2012

Cast

Șerban Pavlu, Sofia Nicolaescu, Mihaela Sîrbu, Gabriel Spahiu, Tamara Buciuceanu-Botez

Director

Radu Jude

On the evidence of director/co-writer Radu Jude’s latest effort, Romania’s much-praised and surprisingly long-lasting New Wave might finally be running out of steam

 

A divorced dad’s love for his daughter drives him to increasingly extreme behavior in Everybody In Our Family (Toată lumea din familia noastră), a misfiring second feature from director/co-writer Radu Jude. Jude became a star of the Romanian New Wave after his 2006 short A Tube with a Hat won dozens of prizes on the festival circuit, and his 2009 comedy-drama The Happiest Girl in the World was a quietly promising transition to longer work. His name alone will guarantee considerable festival play for this latest effort, but it’s too shrill and silly to have much shot at foreign distribution.

Indeed, on this evidence Romania’s much-praised and surprisingly long-lasting New Wave might finally be running out of steam. The idea of a making a talky, claustrophobic movie about a harassed, bad-tempered Bucharest pop trying to take his kid to the seaside – and failing, with violent consequences – was tackled more successfully only two years ago by Constantin Popescu in Principles of Life, another Berlinale Forum premiere. Here Jude and his co-writer Corina Sabău amp up the talkiness and the fisticuffs – especially the latter – to an almost unbearable degree, spiraling out of plausibility and into the kind of contrived situation that occurs much more often in the movies than it does in life.

At first thirtysomething Marius (Serban Pavlu) seems like an ordinary enough, slightly schlubby bachelor: we see him waking in his cramped apartment, visiting his bickering parents, and wrapping a large stuffed octopus he’s bought for his young daughter’s birthday. Little Sofia (Sofia Nicolaescu) lives with her mother Otilia (Mihaela Sîrbu), Otilia´s scrawny accountant boyfriend Aurel (Gabriel Spahiu) and Aurel´s mama Coca (Tamara Buciuceanu-Botez). Marius turns up to take Sofia on a prearranged trip to the seaside - but this isn’t what Aurel was expecting and Otilia isn’t around to give her say-so. Aurel asks Marius to wait until Otilia gets back in, Marius is impatient to get away, and this minor squabble very rapidly escalates into something much more serious.

While in theory it should be possible for a highly skilled filmmaker to write a farcical comedy about domestic violence in a deeply dysfunctional broken family, the task proves some way beyond Jude and Sabău here. Once Otilia returns from her trip to the beauty-parlor Marius rapidly loses control of himself and the situation - spewing out invective (“it makes me puke to think I loved such a devious slime”), assaulting both Otilia and Aurel before tying them up – effectively taking them hostage in their own home and ultimately sparking a small-scale police-siege scenario.

“You’ve gone over the top!” Coca yells at Marius - an understatement if ever there was one - and a charge of which Jude, who struggles to balance the story’s light and heavy elements, is also culpable. Amid all the increasingly noisy chaos, the most realistic and believable of the principal characters is little Nicolaescu in a remarkably fresh and natural screen debut – this six-year-old is one of the most delightful child-performers in a European movie since a previous Romanian moppet, Catinca Untaru from Tarsem Singh’s 2006 The Fall. 

 

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 12, 2012.
Production companies: HiFilm (co-production with Circe Films, Abis Studio)
Cast: Șerban Pavlu, Sofia Nicolaescu, Mihaela Sîrbu, Gabriel Spahiu, Tamara Buciuceanu-Botez
Director: Radu Jude
Screenwriters: Radu Jude, Corina Sabău
Producer: Ada Solomon
Co-producers: Steinette Bosklopper, Gabi Antal
Director of photography: Andrei Butică
Production designer: Elsje de Bruijn
Costumes: Augustina Stanciu
Editor: Cătălin F. Cristuţiu
Sales Agent: Films Boutique, Berlin
No rating, 107 minutes