'Family Film' ('Rodinny Film'): San Sebastian Review

Courtesy of San Sebastian International Film Festival
Familiar material receives a couple of fresh twists. 

Prague-based Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu's debut full-length feature competes for the lucrative New Directors prize at the Spanish festival.

Slovenian writer-director Olmo Omerzu continues his methodical progress towards the European art-cinema big leagues with debut feature Family Film (Rodinny film), which thankfully proves much more stimulating than its blandly generic title. A structurally ambitious study of a well-heeled Czech household's human and canine members that takes surprising geographical and thematic detours, it premiered in San Sebastian's New Directors competition and could plausibly scoop the section´s $55,000 pot. Further festival play is a given for this Czech-German-French-Slovenian-Slovakian co-production, which, among other achievements, showcases a highly promising young actress in the form of Eliska Krenkova.

Krenkova, who has been making films for nine of her 25 years, excels in a crucial secondary role here as Kristyna, free-spirited BFF of mature teenager Anna (Jenovefa Bokova). Anna is left in charge of her slightly younger brother Erik (Daniel Kadlec) when their parents Irena (Vanda Hybnerova) and Igor (Karel Roden) embark on an extended sailing holiday in the Indian Ocean. Complications quickly ensue, followed by life-threatening disaster on the seas via an offscreen shipwreck, plus shocking domestic revelations in a picture whose full synopsis resembles the outline of a torrid telenovela. But the plot's extreme elements are always handled with amusingly droll detachment by Omerzu, with notable assistance from the muted pastel hues of Lukas Milota's cinematography.

The director´s scrutinizing, anthropological approach to the characters and their milieu is apparent from the beginning, signaled by the small-screen wildlife program that the teen protagonists view in the opening seconds. Indeed, the second half of Family Film ends up devoting much of its running-time to the travails of the family's border collie Otto, stranded on a deserted but lushly-foliaged island. An engaging hound played mainly by the talented 'Flek' (with occasional scenes handled by near-identical pooch 'Perth'), Otto does his level best to steal the picture out from under the human's noses, although some viewers may become slightly exasperated by the sheer amount of scenes he´s allocated. Omerzu and his co-writer, Nebojsa Pop-Tasic, know what they're up to, however, and the tearful climax ties things up in a highly satisfactory and commendably unsentimental manner.

Czech-based Omerzu´s career has been a textbook case of gradual steps, progressing from shorts of eight and 16 minutes to 2008's award-winning The Second Act (40 minutes) and then A Night Too Young (2012), which, despite its tricky-to-programme duration of 65 minutes, enjoyed its share of festival-circuit engagements. A finely-modulated study of two schoolboys' exposure to adult behavior, A Night Too Young was notable for Omerzu's skill with performers of varying ages and experience-levels, which is again on display here. Family Film's ensemble ranges from newcomers to an established Hollywood Euro-villain in Roden, and enterprising international casting-agents will be keen to learn if Krenkova can handle English-language roles. She exudes an enticingly assured sensuality here, whether nonchalantly toying with the hormonally-tormented Erik or — in a typically offbeat Omerzu touch — taking rides in an elevator while wearing nothing more than an insouciant smile.

Production companies: Endorfilm, 42 Film, Arsmedia, Rouge International, Punkchart Films, Ceska Televize
Cast: Daniel KadlecJenovefa Bokova, Martin PechlatKarel RodenVanda HybnerovaEliska Krenkova
Director: Olmo Omerzu
Screenwriters: Olmo Omerzu, Nebojsa Pop-Tasic
Producer: Jiri Konecny
Co-producers: Eike Gorecza, Christoph Kukula, Bostjan Ikovic, Nadia Turincev, Julie Gayet, Ivan Ostrochovsky

Cinematographer: Lukas Milota
Costume designer: Marjetka Kurner Kalous
Editor: Jana Vlckova
Casting: Miroslava Hyzikova 
Sales: Cercamon, Dubai
No rating, 95 minutes

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