|Index||4 reviews in total|
The breakthrough film by the most stylish and original critic of the audio/visual age is a sophisticated mock soap opera charting the corrosive influence of TV and video on the fabric of modern family life. With astonishing versatility and a grab-bag of black comic gestures, writer director Atom Egoyan injects an air of deadpan, dispassionate humor into a convoluted melodrama which is less kinky than it sounds: a young man, finding his family identity threatened, rescues some nostalgic home videos before his father can erase them with homemade S&M porn, and then 'kidnaps' his neglected grandmother from her nursing home with the help of a sympathetic woman who earns a living selling phone sex. The screenplay shows a tendency toward over plotting (which should be obvious from even this thumbnail synopsis), but Egoyan unravels the many narrative knots with a rare technical and creative dexterity that earned his film the honor of being the best Canadian film of the year.
This is one twisted family. The 18 year old son Van is involved with his father's live in lover, and his father's phone sex fantasy woman. The family's story is told as if it is all recorded on video and played back in no particular order. The story is very compelling, Van is especially endearing, but the movie is very strange. Still, I recommend it.
The easiest point of comparison for an avant-garde western director
such as Atom Egoyan is the perfect gateway auteur David Lynch; both
deal with opulent, dramatic settings drowned in a sea of atmospheric
knowhow. This is somewhat of a lazy evaluation to make however as it is
like comparing walnuts to peanuts, both are of the same branch of food
but provide completely different sensations. Atmosphere is pretty much
where the languid journalist point of view between the two stops. Atom
seems very much grounded in reality, and though it is one filled with
surrealism, it does not cross the border of reality to fantasy like
Lynch has portrayed many times.
His movies flourish with somewhat realistic characters stuck in situations that seem out of the norm. In possibly his biggest hit, 'Exotica', there is a grandiose set of a strip club that throws perverse situations in the faces of what on the surface appears to be normal people. The set almost becomes a living, breathing actor who is delivering their lines promptly and pushing the movie in directions it would not naturally go in if the actor was absent.
'Family Viewing' utilises this tool to the nth degree. Based mainly in a suburban home but also, more importantly, a run down claustrophobic nursing home, the area chokes the film and causes discomfort in the viewer. The introspective look of family intricacies reminds me of Jon Jost's masterpiece 'The Bed You Sleep In' which involves a daughter sending a letter home about how she's had flashbacks of her father raping her. This toys with the same idea though it is apparent the father has raped Armen, his elderly mother he's put into a care home, of her emotional value. Throughout the movie she doesn't say a word, stripped of her inner human and emitting a cold, desolate shoulder to those that surround her. The only person who accompanies and looks after her is her grandson, Van. His persona signifies someone who is lonely and distant, but his warm heartfelt emotions cause him to really care for this old woman. He tries everything possible to make life better for her and eventually has her living in an abandoned wing of a hotel he works at; this is caused by his father's unresolved resentment to Armen.
The story is oddly compelling, especially when the narrative is shook up and background to the characters is given through small showings of family memory tapes. This plays a big part in the mood of the film; the relationships of the characters and why they act a certain way are slowly revealed throughout the movie as nostalgic VHS cassettes are re-visited in no particular order. Things shown include clips of: Van's mother who disappeared several years previous, Van's father's phone sex fantasy, Van in several child-like scenarios and other background filler both of surreal and homely nature. The film works very well even with a shattered narrative and appears defiant as a piece of modern cinema and avant-garde cinema.
Atom Egoyan is a masterful director. Every shot seems important and the dialogue, while rusty and perhaps forced, is really thought out in terms of pushing certain ideas forward. I used to think that the only innovative, truly worthwhile directors bloomed in Japan and parts of Europe, but Egoyan has proved to me that there are still partially recent directors in the western world making a stand in their artistic vision and bringing it to life without becoming complacent in their direction.
Van's father, Stan, is fond of video, always taping scenes of daily
family life. But he does not take care of Van's grandmother, Armen.
Although he could afford having her at home, she is spending her days
watching TV in an old people's home.
At this point, I have seen almost all of the films of Atom Egoyan. This was definitely my least favorite. Not that it was horrible, and I have to give him some credit because he is clearly working with no budget... but this is just not the masterpiece that, say, "Exotica" is. Its clever concepts are bogged down by dull characters.
The lack of emotion from some characters, and questionable motives of others are quite interesting, but never fully realized.
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