Film Review: ‘Family Film’

Olmo Omerzu's intriguing second feature is a dry, droll, unexpectedly dog-driven dissection of a domestic crisis.

Karel Roden, Vanda Hybnerova, Daniel Kadlec, Jenovefa Bokova, Eliska Krenkova, Martin Pechlat. (Czech dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3828058/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

Fun and games for all the family take a mordant turn in “Family Film,” a story of parental negligence and youthful irresponsibility that young and old might prefer to watch in separate rooms. Irony-attuned audiences, however, will find plenty to enjoy in this elegant, darkly unpredictable fusion of ashen black comedy and urgent domestic drama, in which a standard home-alone setup degenerates into a tense worst-case scenario from every perspective — even that of the family border collie. The plucky pup’s own dramatic arc is the most beguiling of many curiosities in Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu’s perverse but poignant second feature, which should turn a number of unrelated heads on the festival circuit — among them, distributors with a taste for straight-faced eccentricity. Don’t hold your breath for a Disney remake.

Omerzu opens “Family Film” with footage — filtered through a backseat television screen — of amphibian mating rituals from a David Attenborough-style wildlife documentary, cluing viewers in to the pic’s own level of observational remove. Over the course of the film, children will be left to fend for themselves in the sleek urban forest, while their put-upon pet will face a more literal wilderness, with Lukas Milota’s flannel-toned camerawork maintaining the same degree of uninvolved, non-invasive scrutiny throughout. “Nature Film” would have been no less appropriate a title, given how Omerzu and Nebosja Pop-Tasic’s sharp, structurally daring  script probes coolly into more primal realms of animal behavior in man and beast alike.

At the outset, however, all would appear to be in order with the eponymous family, a well-off Czech brood with a roomy Prague apartment so tastefully appointed as to make Nancy Meyers’ decorator weep into her dust ruffle. We never learn what parents Igor (Karel Roden) and Irena (Vanda Hybnerova) do for a living; whatever the answer, it permits them to take off for several weeks on an expensive Indian Ocean sailing vacation, taking their beloved pooch Otto with them on the high seas. This dog may have his (holi)day, but the couple’s children aren’t so lucky: Conscientious highschooler Anna (Jenovefa Bokova) is charged with the care of her younger brother Erik (Daniel Kadlec), with Igor’s brother Martin (Martin Pechlat) checking in on them from time to time.

Popular on Variety

Igor and Irena make rather a show of their liberal parenting style — reclining semi-nude during their Skype calls home, for example — but their trust, as it turns out, is slightly misplaced. As Erik takes advantage of their absence to skip school for days on end, Anna opens the household to the seductively wayward influence of her best friend Kristina (ensemble livewire Eliska Krenkova), an uninhibited vamp-in-training who soon has the sexually naive lad, in particular, wrapped around her finger. Just as it seems that familial disaster may strike first in Prague, however, an unseen storm leaves the parents presumably lost at sea. Our only clue to their fate is their woebegone dog, who washes up alone on a deserted tropical shore.

From this point forward, none of the drama unfolds as one might expect. With one half of their core quartet rendered unceremoniously incommunicado, Omerzu and Pop-Tasic keep redirecting the narrative with drastic melodramatic turns, to a point of absurd excess. Yet the dry, academic distance from which the pic views the fallout lends peculiar credibility to these heightened circumstances; “Family Film” emerges as an exacting study of each member’s function (and dysfunction) in the family unit. That includes our intrepid border collie, with a surprising amount of screen time given over to Otto’s solo survival battle on a sodden, mangrove-laced beach. This veritable canine “Cast Away” saga will delight some viewers and bemuse others — but like all the film’s seemingly arbitrary digressions, held deceptively in check by Janka Vickova’s sly editing, it builds to a cutting punchline.

The cast complies perfectly with their helmer’s chosen register of deadpan reserve, with the trio of young actors doing particularly fine, anxious work in the film’s deliberately unmoored middle stretch. The lithe, striking Krenkova is something of a revelation, deftly playing both the preternatural poise and the try-hard childishness in Kristina’s bad-girl persona. For aficionados of four-legged thesping, meanwhile, a star is born in Flek, the dolefully expressive hound who carries so much of the film’s latter half on his shaggy shoulders.

Film Review: 'Family Film'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (New Directors), Sept. 21, 2015. Running time: 95 MIN. (Original title: "Rodinny film")

Production: (Czech Republic-Germany-Slovenia-France-Slovakia) A Endorfilm production in co-production with 42film, Ceska Televize, Arsmedia, Rouge International, Punkchart Films. (International sales: Cercamon, Dubai.) Produced by Jiri Konecny. Co-producers, Eike Goreczka, Christoph Kukula, Bostjan Ikovic, Nadia Turincev, Julie Gayet, Ivan Ostrochovsky.

Crew: Directed by Olmo Omerzu. Screenplay, Omerzu, Nebosja Pop-Tasic. Camera (color, widescreen), Lukas Milota; editor, Janka Vickova; sound, Johannes Doberenz; supervising sound editor, Florian Marquardt; production designer, Iva Nemcova; costume designer, Marjetka Kurner Kalous; line producer, Eva Kovarova; assistant director, Pavel Svaton; casting, Myroslava Hyzicova.

With: Karel Roden, Vanda Hybnerova, Daniel Kadlec, Jenovefa Bokova, Eliska Krenkova, Martin Pechlat. (Czech dialogue)

More Film

  • Pulsar Boards 'Wild Indian' With Jesse

    Pulsar Content Boards 'Wild Indian' Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Greyeyes (EXCLUSIVE)

    Pulsar Content, the Paris-based sales company launched at Toronto, has acquired “Wild Indian,” a thriller executive produced by and starring Jesse Eisenberg, along with Michael Greyeyes (“Fear the Walking Dead”). The film marks the feature debut of Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., whose shorts have played at Toronto and Sundance. “Wild Indian” was developed at the [...]

  • The Night Clerk

    'The Night Clerk': Film Review

    In “The Night Clerk,” Tye Sheridan and a very busy Ana de Armas star as a hotel clerk with Asperger’s and the solicitous beauty who shows up after a murder. The chemistry between Sheridan and de Armas is involving. The casting of Helen Hunt as a enabling mother and John Leguizamo as a police detective [...]

  • A still from Rebuilding Paradise by

    'Rebuilding Paradise': Film Review

    Ron Howard, over the last decade, has directed a handful of documentaries (all of them about popular musicians), and maybe it’s no surprise that he has turned out to be an ace craftsman of the nonfiction form. But “Rebuilding Paradise,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is a different kind of Ron Howard documentary, [...]

  • "Winerreise"

    MK2 Leaps Into 'A Winter's Journey' Made By 'Loving Vincent,' 'Despicable Me' Artists (EXCLUSIVE)

    MK2 has boarded Alex Helfrecht’s “A Winter’s Journey,” a feature blending live-action, CGI and hand-painted animation made by the creative teams behind “Despicable Me” and “Loving Vincent.” Adapted from Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise,” the film stars Gaspard Ulliel, John Malkovich, Martina Gedeck, Charles Berling  and newcomer Gabriella Moran. Set in 1812 Bavaria, the film tells the [...]

  • Shorta

    Berlin: Charades Scoops Up Edgy Danish Drama 'Shorta' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Charades has scooped up international sales rights to “Shorta,” the buzzed-about Danish project that was presented at Les Arcs’s work-in-progress and Goteborg’s Nordic Film Market. “Shorta,” directed by Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm, unfolds in the aftermath of the killing of 19-year-old Talib Ben Hassi while in custody. The film follows two police officers, [...]

  • Stefan Ruzowitzky

    Berlin: Stefan Ruzowitzky, Stephen Susco join 'Alone' remake (EXCLUSIVE)

    Stefan Ruzowitzky, director of the Oscar-winning “The Counterfeiters,” and “The Grudge” screenwriter Stephen Susco have boarded “Alone,” a remake of the 2007 supernatural Thai thriller by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. The new film follows conjoined twin sisters from an Asian family in Boston whose loving relationship is tested when one of them befriends a [...]

  • A couple wearing face masks walk

    Coronavirus May Hurt China's Long-Term Entertainment Industry Goals

    Halting all film releases and closing cinemas over Chinese New Year was the most dramatic possible expression of the emergency response to the novel coronavirus threat that spread from the city of Wuhan in January. The movie distribution and exhibition sectors had been counting on a billion dollars of box office revenue over the 10-day [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content