Five Favorite Films About Family

More precisely I should specify dysfunctional families, because those are really the most interesting ones, right? Family is a beautiful thing, unfortunately no family is perfect, because every family is made of human beings and human beings are imperfect. Pets don’t count or maybe they do, who cares. What I’m saying is that we all want a family, we need a family. If our “blood” family sucks, we’ll probably look for a surrogate family, like in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The thing is: We can’t escape being tied to a family, unless they’re dead. Sometimes even then they’re somehow with us, for better or worse.

This weekend Luc Besson‘s action/crime/comedy The Family comes out in American theaters, and so I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite sub-genres. Why am I particularly taken with this type of films? Well, because one way or another they’re useful to help you understand the dynamics within your own family. There’s also always a lot of drama going on usually, which is fun to watch, as long as it’s not your own family. I love my family and so here are some of my favorite films about family. I’m not even sure these are the top five, these are just five that are near and dear to me.

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5. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)
A powerful drama about a man (Peter Falk) living with an insane woman, his wife (Gena Rowlands). This is one of my favorite films by John Cassavetes. It’s maybe more about marriage than family, but it’s definitely worthwhile and memorable. Cassavetes creates a nerve-wracking atmosphere that makes the film feel very heavy and weighty. Both lead actors give fantastic, possibly career-best performance in their respective roles. The film is also beautiful to look at and I’m not a big fan of the 70s aesthetic.

4. Der siebente Kontinent (1989, Michael Haneke)
The Seventh Continent is about a “failed” family. Failed in the sense that they all kill themselves. This is no spoiler, they set out to put an end to their existence from the get go. You know it’s going to happen, but in typical Haneke fashion of course it will take quite some time before it actually happens. The film takes it’s sweet time and that’s what makes it so intense and hard to watch. It’s a very depressing and cold film, and I usually tend to enjoy more romantic fare, but in this case it is totally appropriate to the narrative.

3. Festen (1998, Thomas Vinterberg)
The Celebration is a hand-held camera, documentary-style portrait of a family gathering together for a what is supposed to be a joyous occasion. You know who doesn’t seem to think so? Our main character. He has some “unresolved” issues with his father and they’re going to come to the surface in an epic climax. I won’t give anything away, but this film hit me very hard emotionally. There’s some dark stuff, but I love how it’s done and it’s very Danish. I’m a big fan of Danish humor and director Thomas Vinterberg.

2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
Definitely on the lighter side (this is a comedy/drama) The Royal Tenenbaums is about a bourgeois family. Parents are divorced, kids grew up to be adults in arrested development with daddy issues and so on. To me this is still Wes Anderson’s best film and it’s interesting to see him really find his style and who he is as an auteur. Charming, funny, well-written, great attention to detail (especially in the set design and costuming), an incredible cast of character actors and some genuinely touching moments: What’s not to love?

1. Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005, Sono Sion)
When I first saw this film (a sequel to Sono’s Suicide Club) I hated it. Then thinking about it I realized that I hated one of the main characters, but the thing is: You’re supposed to hate her. She is a horrible person doing horrible things. The film’s premise is that two girls function as “family members for hire”. Much like actors they play the role a family asks them to in exchange for money, but of course being a Sono Sion film there’s more to it. Noriko’s Dinner Table is a powerful drama bringing up some interesting sociological and moral issues.

So as you may have noticed these films about family are not easy to swallow. Sometimes they’re very heavy and deal with taboo issues or things that are not often talked about publicly when mentioning family. Sometimes they’re also lighter like the charming quirky indie Pieces of April (starring the adorable Katie Holmes). Either way they always tend to get emotional, sometimes it’s earned and sometimes it’s cheesy and unrealistically “perfect”, like in most Hollywood films or films targeting families. That’s not to say indies can’t be heavy-handed, there are of course a lot of Oscar-baity films, but they’re not worth mentioning or talking about, so I’ll stick to the ones I’ve mentioned. Yeah, so if you could just tell me about your favorite films about family that would be great!

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