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Van's father, Stan, is fond of video, always taping scenes of daily family life. But he does not take care of Van's grandmother, Armen. Although he could afford having her at home, she is spending her days watching TV in an old people's home. Van often visits her. He meets Aline, whose mother is in the next bed. Van wants to get his grandma out of the old people's home. Aline will help. Actually, Van, whose mother left, years ago, is looking for a real family life.Written by
The easiest point of comparison for an avant-garde western director such as Atom Egoyan is the perfect gateway auteur David Lynch; both deal with opulent, dramatic settings drowned in a sea of atmospheric knowhow. This is somewhat of a lazy evaluation to make however as it is like comparing walnuts to peanuts, both are of the same branch of food but provide completely different sensations. Atmosphere is pretty much where the languid journalist point of view between the two stops. Atom seems very much grounded in reality, and though it is one filled with surrealism, it does not cross the border of reality to fantasy like Lynch has portrayed many times.
His movies flourish with somewhat realistic characters stuck in situations that seem out of the norm. In possibly his biggest hit, 'Exotica', there is a grandiose set of a strip club that throws perverse situations in the faces of what on the surface appears to be normal people. The set almost becomes a living, breathing actor who is delivering their lines promptly and pushing the movie in directions it would not naturally go in if the actor was absent.
'Family Viewing' utilises this tool to the nth degree. Based mainly in a suburban home but also, more importantly, a run down claustrophobic nursing home, the area chokes the film and causes discomfort in the viewer. The introspective look of family intricacies reminds me of Jon Jost's masterpiece 'The Bed You Sleep In' which involves a daughter sending a letter home about how she's had flashbacks of her father raping her. This toys with the same idea though it is apparent the father has raped Armen, his elderly mother he's put into a care home, of her emotional value. Throughout the movie she doesn't say a word, stripped of her inner human and emitting a cold, desolate shoulder to those that surround her. The only person who accompanies and looks after her is her grandson, Van. His persona signifies someone who is lonely and distant, but his warm heartfelt emotions cause him to really care for this old woman. He tries everything possible to make life better for her and eventually has her living in an abandoned wing of a hotel he works at; this is caused by his father's unresolved resentment to Armen.
The story is oddly compelling, especially when the narrative is shook up and background to the characters is given through small showings of family memory tapes. This plays a big part in the mood of the film; the relationships of the characters and why they act a certain way are slowly revealed throughout the movie as nostalgic VHS cassettes are re-visited in no particular order. Things shown include clips of: Van's mother who disappeared several years previous, Van's father's phone sex fantasy, Van in several child-like scenarios and other background filler both of surreal and homely nature. The film works very well even with a shattered narrative and appears defiant as a piece of modern cinema and avant-garde cinema.
Atom Egoyan is a masterful director. Every shot seems important and the dialogue, while rusty and perhaps forced, is really thought out in terms of pushing certain ideas forward. I used to think that the only innovative, truly worthwhile directors bloomed in Japan and parts of Europe, but Egoyan has proved to me that there are still partially recent directors in the western world making a stand in their artistic vision and bringing it to life without becoming complacent in their direction.
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