My Happy Family Screen 80 of 11 reviews

My Happy Family

2017

My Happy Family Poster
  • It is the kind of well-crafted film that the Competition could use, the kind of German-European Zusammenarbeit one might think the programmers would foreground after Toni Erdmann rejuvenated the international reception of German cinema at A-list rival Cannes in 2016. But more than that, it is a film that stays in the eyes and ears because it _believes_ in its own method, because it _trusts_ its characters and spectators.

  • A female liberation story set in Tbilisi, Georgia, and in a sardonically funny, touching key, “My Happy Family” follows Manana as she leaves her shocked family without explanation, shutting the door on a claustrophobic whirlwind of jostling bodies, hectoring voices and competing needs... The Georgian directors Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross could choreograph a ballet, but, lucky us, they’re filmmakers.

  • The more we learn, the less we know. One person’s betrayal turns out to be another’s noble sacrifice. Protective impulses become threats. Heartbreak becomes possibility. It all goes on and on until you realize that what you’re watching isn’t a movie anymore. It is life itself, in all its messiness and horror and glory.

  • The muted colour palette and Tudor Vladimir Panduru’s handheld long-takes reiterate a commitment to social realism Nana & Simon first made with In Bloom. In spite of this, My Happy Family relishes its sensory pleasures... The first time we see Manana really smile is in a market, as she peruses colourful stalls of fresh produce. Where once the market was a chore, a stop on her mother’s shopping list, now it’s rendered anew, and Manana finds herself free from an imposed culinary order.

  • The painful small talk is vaguely reminiscent of Fahradi's A Separation, until a not-so-random event disrupts the rhythm of the couple's emotional stocktaking. In the end, Manana is left with a wounded man in her apartment, not sure what to do with him. The situation is eerily familiar.

  • Shugliashvili shrewdly conveys Manana's sense of emotional exhaustion and rejuvenated spirit as the character remains steadfast in her decision to live alone despite still visiting her family quite often. While the story of her past remains elusive, the film offers subtle details that paint an impressionistic portrait of the life Manana wishes to escape.

  • Nana and Simon's first feature, In Bloom, was a coming-of-age drama about two teenage girls in the conflict-torn Georgia of the early ’90s. My Happy Family is arguably less ambitious in scope and theme, but it’s a mature, finely modulated drama that invites the viewer into an intimate, vibrant family nest—and then shows you why the mother of that family would choose not to stay there.

  • There's palpable discontent, but also joy and profound beauty. (If this film is anything to go by, apparently all Georgians are marvelous singers.) “I survived the Communists… I survived so many shitty governments,” says Otar, Manana’s taciturn father. But family is something else altogether. This is a film that both understands that, and communicates it well.

  • The famous George Burns quote that “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city” is literally put into practice by the heroine of Georgian directors Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’ perceptive and endearing second feature, about a 52-year-old mother who changes her life by moving out of the house. It’s a simple, somewhat mundane scenario that, in the hands of a terrific cast and two talented filmmakers, is transformed into a minor Greek comic-tragedy.

  • Nana & Simon (as they’ve helpfully/pragmatically chosen to be billed) operate in a familiar post-Dardennes/Romanian New Wave vein, using handheld camera in often inelegant spaces; it’s the type of naturalism that, at this rate, has a ceiling on the amount of enthusiasm I can master, but they’re extremely deft practitioners. The takes are often long and clearly meticulously choreographed, but rarely conspicuously so.

  • Providing certain vivid detail but rather lacking in vitality, Ekvtimishvili’s screenplay is stronger on sociology than drama. While she notably contrasts the relationship and lives of three generations of Georgian women, she and editor Stefan Stabenow allow dramatic events such as Manana’s actual divorce and the breakup of Nino and Vakho’s relationship to take place off-screen, robbing the overall action of the dynamism of climatic situations.

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