A return home for a funeral reps an eye-opening experience for both a young outsider and the audience in debutante Mar Coll's "Three Days With the Family." Evocative portrait of a Catalan clan being unhappy in its own way attacks middle-class hypocrisy.

A return home for a funeral reps an eye-opening experience for both a young outsider and the audience in debutante Mar Coll’s “Three Days With the Family.” Evocative portrait of a Catalan clan being unhappy in its own way attacks middle-class hypocrisy, which emptily extols family virtues even as the family falls apart. It’s sustained by some fine performances, particularly from first-timer Nausicaa Bonnin, and by a script alert to every nuance. More typically Gallic than Spanish, “Family” is a distinctive calling card for 28-year-old Coll, whose movie took director, actress and actor nods at the Malaga fest.

Script details the three days of a wake, funeral and burial. Moody student Lea (Bonnin) returns from Bordeaux to Catalonia for the funeral of her grandfather, the father of Josep Maria (Eduard Fernandez), who is separated from Joelle (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) but still keeps up appearances in front of the family.

Also present are Josep Maria’s brothers, Toni (Francesc Orella) and Pere (Ramon Fontsere). Conspicuous by her absence — though she turns up later — is sister Virginia (Amalia Sancho), who’s written a thinly disguised autobiographical novel of which Pere, a chip off the old block, strongly disapproves.

The women talk — Joelle when she drinks, Virginia in her book — and both have effectively been banned from the family. The men are emotional cripples: “The important things survive,” says Toni, but when Josep Maria asks him what those things are, he can only reply, “You know already.” The younger generation bonds with a spontaneity that the older generation has long outgrown.

Pic is more a sequence of telling scenes than a regular narrative: Not much happens, as most of the characters are emotionally static. Fernandez often plays taciturn figures struggling with inner concerns they don’t themselves understand, and Josep Maria fits the bill perfectly here. As he sits on a bed listening to his daughter crying in the next room, he wants to go to her side but is unable to do so.

Most of the main family members have replaced emotion with empty ritual, preferring silence or trivial chatter even when someone is silently sobbing at the dinner table.

Perfs in the character-led drama are fine when taken separately, but it’s the ensemble element that really counts. A picture emerges of a family that no longer knows what a family should be, and when Pere, the new patriarch, delivers a speech eulogizing the family, his words come across as powerfully ironic.

Lensing is generally unobtrusive, with occasional use of intimate handheld camerawork. Music is minimalist, often just a briefly plucked guitar; heard more often are extracts from “La traviata,” which Josep Maria likes to listen to.

Three Days With the Family

Spain

Production

An Escandalo Films production, in association with TVE, TVC. (International sales: Escandalo, Barcelona.) Executive producers, Sergi Casamitjana, Aintza Serra, Lita Roig. Directed by Mar Coll. Screenplay, Coll, Valentina Viso.

Crew

Camera (color), Neus Olle; editor, Elena Ruiz; music, Maikmaier; art director, Xenia Besora; sound (Dolby Digital), Jordi Ribas, Joan Pons. Reviewed at Malaga Film Festival (competing), April 23, 2009. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Nausicaa Bonnin, Eduard Fernandez, Ramon Fontsere, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Francesc Orella, Amalia Sancho. (Catalan, Spanish dialogue)

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