A 19 years old London girl received agressive psychiatric treatments for her schizophrenic behaviour by a doctor who still wants her family to insure the guard of the child without any regards to the facts that it is this family who's agravating her situation.Written by
Jean-Marie Berthiaume <email@example.com>
Well, this is the thing that baffles me, Doctor, um, she really was quite a model child, she was tidy, in fact, I used to go into her bedroom some mornings and it-it was so tidy, it really didn't look as if anyone had been in there.
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The pressures of meeting conventional standards !!!
The opening credits for Ken Loach's 'Family Life' are accompanied by a montage of still shots of an industrial working class British town to establish the setting and backdrop of the narrative. During this montage we get an image of a straight line of houses in the neighbourhood. I think from a certain angle, that image is expressive of the struggles that the protagonist Janice goes through in the film. The houses stacking up one after the other in a rigid line is thematically similar to the what Janice's parents expect her to do, live her life in a specific and pre-ordained way within inflexible parameters and become the person that they want her to be instead of allowing herself to discover and realise what she wants to do with her life. They want her to become another addition to the rigid straight line of conformists. This is a tale of suffocation brought on by a rigid obligation to conform.
This was released in 1971, that is right after the swinging sixties and there is abundant reference to the counter-culture movements and the hippie revolution. Janice's parents are conservative Christian working class people who look down upon the new ways of the new times. They want their daughter to do 'what's good for her' as long as what she does conforms to their rigid idea of 'good'. After Janice gets forced to abort her unborn child by them, she slowly and gradually disintegrates and becomes a mere shadow of her former self. Her rights get taken away from her and she succumbs to the pressure of rigid traditionalism.
Loach doesn't do anything flashy with the camera. As a matter of fact I can't remember a single shot in the film that seeks attention. It's very understated. Loach uses the quintessential kitchen-sink drama approach and allows the scenes to progress with the help of strong dialogue instead of visual poetry. Although there is one distinct poetic scene where Janice goes on a sweet spray painting spree and we see a look of sheer joy on her face, for a change. This moment reminded me of the scene in Loach's 'Kes' where Billy explains his bird's habits to his classmates and for the first time, we can distinctly hear a new sense of passion in his voice.
The screenplay I think has some weaknesses. The timeline gets muddled up unnecessarily at the beginning which makes it a bit confusing to get a grasp of the timeline and the order of the events. Secondly, although there is an attempt made to explore and humanise the parents towards the beginning of the film with a scene involving the father somewhat opening up to the doctor about his marriage and family life, however those efforts get abandoned completely and the parents gradually become more and more hate- worthy due to their constant reprehensible actions and words. I feel Loach and his screenwriter could have tried to humanise the parents a bit more which thereby would have added more complexity to the film instead of making them completely antagonistic.
The tone set by Loach is naturalistic and the acting is likewise. The conversations and verbal exchanges are acted out and staged with an admirable air of authenticity. Sandy Ratcliff deserves a special mention. She convincing manages to portray a mentally troubled and depressed individual without the clichéd mannerisms that some actors resort to for selling a state of mental imbalance. She managed to make me really care for her character which is necessary for this role.
'Family Life' isn't a perfect film, but it is certainly worth watching.
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