A Family first published by EyeforFilm at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2019
To watch Jayden Stevens’ feature debut, you would never know where the director comes from. For like Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan (2015) and Steven Kastrissios’ Bloodlands (2017), A Family is an Australian film unfolding in Eastern Europe – in this case Ukraine, with a cast of Ukrainian non-professional actors all speaking in their native tongue.
Co-written by director Stevens and his DP Tom Swinburn, the film follows the attempts of earnest, humourless Emerson (Pavlo Lehenkyi) to create around him the image of the perfect family – something that he does by hiring locals to perform the parts of his mother, father, sister, brother and uncle, in order to make home videos of banal, and banally scripted, happy family gatherings in his drab, barely furnished home. Yet in the part of Emerson’s younger sister Ericka (Liudmyla Zamidra), Olga keeps going off script with her own idiosyncrasies and aspirations, as she seeks in Emerson a father figure to replace the long-absent husband of her mother Christina (Tetiana Kosianchuk).
In this, Stevens brings a surreal spin to the most mundane of family get-togethers, as he exposes the rôles that we all play and the burdens that we all bring to any domestic scenario, and suggests that none of us can ever have a full bird’s-eye perspective on the labyrinths in which we trap ourselves as we form complex human interrelationships – some inherited, some improvised – throughout our lives.
Unfolding in spaces shared with Atom Egoyan, Yorgos Lanthimos, Aki Kaurismäki and Charlie Kaufman, A Family nonetheless finds an unsettling absurdity that is all its own. Funny, bleak and profound, and full of deliriously deadpan lines (“You should not blame a fruit dessert for your form”), it casts its director as a far more assured wrangler of ensembles and ideas than the unimaginative, emotionally constipated Emerson could ever be. Cannot wait to see what Stevens does next.
© Anton Bitel