One of the best shorts I've ever seen (Possible spoiler)
Absolutely wonderful modern take on Southern Gothic - imagine Tennessee Williams filmed by Jim Jarmusch - that somehow manages to be coolly formal and richly emotional at the same time. The title's different meanings - not only the literal corpse of the father, but the idea that when all else (ex-husbands, money, food, dignity) is gone, family remains; that these Gothic relics are mere 'remains' as life passes them by; that the past is not so much a series of former events, than an unbreakable state of mind - point to the film's happysad intentions.
The film features four of those Tennessee Williams staples - the imperious mother of aging beauty, full of deluded hope, yet badly scarred by a past she only tacitly alludes to, waiting in vain for gentleman callers; an only daughter, whose personal growth is being hampered by her mother's totally inappropriate aspirations; a young gentleman caller who tries to befriend the daughter; and an unseen, errant ex-husband.
But instead of hothouse atmosphere, wispy characters and flowery dialogue, Jenkins offers us something much stranger and wittier. The rites-of-passage elements of the story are familiar enough from similar films, and Annette Arnold as Louise is very winning, the right mixture of feigned indifference, sarky surliness and terror at being left behind by life, left living with ghosts like her mother.
In theory, this mother is a horror - refusing to get a job because it's beneath her social dignity, but readily sleeping with any madman because she has needs; watching Frank Sinatra to fortify her against the real world; eating in one binge the food given by the gentleman caller for her daughter; offering seeming compliments that are really barbed insults. But she is very sympathetic, still poised, funny and beautiful, keeping a serene calm to keep her from going to pieces, and to save her daughter, which she does remarkably well, despite deprivation and ingratitude, as the final shot acknowledges.
What characterises the film is a very stylised sense of humour, which veers from familiar indie deadpan to the bathetically surreal. One running gag concerns Floyd, a seemingly disturbed stalker who waits outside the house whistling all night like an abandoned dog. Soon, however, he deflatingly brings a chair and newspaper, like he's out for the golf - the monotony of devotion needs distraction. However, this seeming harmlessness becomes more sinister when Louise discovers her mother has slept with him, her ex-husband, and she flings him out of the house, hysterically threatening him with a poker. The more disturbing sexual side of Southern gentility is implied, and the comedy is a lot more difficult to take lightly. The brilliantly surreal coffin sequence is another take on the nature of hostile family life and identity.
The great glory of FAMILY REMAINS, however, is its monochrome photography, genuinely rich like a film from the 40s, not like the colour dial has been turned down like most modern black and white efforts. The stunning lighting and shadowplay links the film both with the 40s woman's picture and melodrama, acknowledging the continuity of female survival in a world of unreliable men, and the Gothic picture, heightening the drama, showing its basis in suppressed mental hysteria, making disturbing the domestic, even the maternal.
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