Sometimes takes me a while to be able to watch films and this film was not only really elusive but was must be seen for me as I was really curious by Fanny Ardant directorial debut; the wait was worth it as I liked this film that has excellent cinematography and a performance by Ronit Elkabetz that absolutely recalls Greek actresses in Greek tragedies, not only for the extreme eye makeup but also for the sometimes exaggerated gestures.
Film looks and feels like a Greek tragedy; like those stories that start with tragedy and end with tragedy while in between have some happiness moments until tragedy starts to built its course. Story has several characters and many are not well-developed; believe that the reason why is because main character is tragedy and believe me, tragedy is well-developed.
Film starts with black and white scenes that show how a father is killed. Killing has all signs of a vendetta. Move forward in time to watch what looks like a normal family with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz) being the mother, Pashko the younger violent son, Ismael the older son and Mira the younger deaf daughter who are living in Marseilles. Against her will, better judgment and under pressure of her sons and daughter Judith finally accepts to return to her homeland for a cousin wedding. Homeland is a large country house were an extended family lives under the strict eye of the grandmother, a stern matriarch in a dark and absolutely tradition oriented family that will follow her commands. As they arrive not everyone welcomes mainly Judith and later we will learn the tragedy -and reason why she’s not welcomed- that she has hidden from her children. Tragedy shows its signs since they arrive and when we learn that the cousin is marrying into a rival clan. What follows is tragedy developing slowly but surely.
I was surprised to find mostly negative critics’ reviews (much less among viewers), reviews that I read in every language I understand as it was incredible for me what English, French, and Italian critics were writing, so I went further. Incredible because I do like the film even when has tragedy written all over or haven’t you noticed how many times I have written the word “tragedy”?
For example some complain that country is unnamed; well never mention the name or you will clearly see signs that tell but actors speak Romanian, so I never questioned where they were as I knew it was Romania. Other complain about not well developed characters; agree that they’re not well developed as in my opinion the only well developed character here is tragedy. Could go on and on but it’s not relevant as you haven’t read reviews; what’s important is that I understood that film is not for everyone and deduced that you really have to appreciate classic tragedies to enjoy story as film is not really criticized, is the story what bothered everyone.
So for whatever is worth and for those that understand French this is what Fanny Ardant says about the story:
"L'histoire de la violence est inscrite dans les cicatrices, visibles ou invisibles. La violence n'est pas uniquement dans les coups ! Tout ce que l'on perd ou ce que l'on gagne arrive souvent par une sorte de violence, ce que l'on subit aussi. Nous portons en nous des sortes de cicatrices, faites de tout ce que l'on a accepté. En racontant l'histoire de cette famille, je voulais parler de l'empreinte que peut laisser la violence, la terreur sur les êtres humains, l'autorité de la loi, l'humiliation... "
For Fanny the story is about violence and for me violence is a human tragedy. Anyway, story was written by Ardant and is inspired in Ismail Kadaré’s "Eschyle ou le grand perdant" (1985). Enough said about story.
If you reached this point after so many “tragedy” mentions, then probably this film is for you to watch as we can’t forget that locations are beautiful photographed with good cinematography that absolutely eases your eyes while watching and hearing incomprehensible (for non-tradition oriented people) acts plus harsh words and intentions.
I liked the film that easily got me involved with story, but most of all for the mesmerizing performance by Ronit Elkabetz and the beautiful locations that marveled my eyes; last, Fanny Ardant's film is a lot better than many other debut films by today well known good directors.
Watch trailer @MOC