Described as ‘a fusion between black comedy and drama’, Olmo Omerzu’s Family Film (2015) slowly unravels the superficial layers of a near-perfect wealthy family living in Prague, which falls apart as the parents go sailing in Asia with dog Otto, leaving behind their two children, grown-up Anna and her 15-year-old brother Erik. Moving from everyday drama, like Erik skipping school, to much bigger tragedies of attempted suicide and Anna and Erik’s need to deal with the (supposed) loss of Otto and their parents, Family Film slowly transforms from a slow and somewhat clichéd ‘coming of age’ movie into a bitter-sweet drama.
We don’t know why the parents are taking their epic trip, and, initially, the children cope well: Anna’s friend Krystyna is staying with them, and there are parties, lots of spaghetti, films and wine. Krystyna soon starts an on-off fling with Erik, which at first appears like young love, yet soon transpires to be a game – one of the many Krystyna plays. Anna, though faintly aware of the situation, doesn’t seem to care that much. She’s the grown-up one, concerned about Erik’s attendance at school, dinner and groceries. When things don’t turn out quite as smoothly as planned at the beginning, she involves her uncle, who begins to look after his niece and nephew’s wellbeing with the greatest care…
Family Film is strange. It does many things at the same time, yet, none of them entirely convincingly. Ultimately, there are too many intriguing threads left open, most notably Krystyna’s character: she seamlessly enters the story as ‘just one of Anna’s friends’, but her back and forth with Erik gives her much more depth than just a passing character. Yet we don’t find out more. Rather, she disappears, going to her parents’ house for Christmas, just as quietly as she first entered. One thing that’s pronounced with Krystyna, though, is the sense of ennui: the first time we get to know her is when she goes up and down the elevator naked – just for the thrill of it. When Erik asks why she would do such a thing, she simply replies ‘boredom’. It’s those scenes that really frame Anna and Erik’s privileged lives, but we never learn more about the person who challenges their status quo with new ideas.
Ironically the bored, comfortable teenage life seems to make consistent reference to Pelišky, Jan Hřebejk’s 1999 cult film about two families around the time of the Prague Spring, which featured the love story of two teens, Jindřiška and Michael. The movies share similar outlooks in terms of the drudgery of day-to-day life, even though Pelišky was set in communist Czechoslovakia and Family Film in a successfully capitalist Prague. Yet where Pelišky gained momentum through its historical framing, Family Film does not. Instead, it suddenly switches over from this humorous approach to life to family drama, when the parents who have just moments before skyped their children half-naked and tanned from their yacht, disappear. From then on, everything goes downhill.
The strange thing is that none of the impending drama appears in any way dramatic: it’s just another part of the characters’ lives – and one they eventually deal with in a surprisingly calm manner. Is this an exploration of the Czech character? We don’t find out – and this is exactly the issue with Family Film. It suggests a number of philosophical or ideological ideas that the story may move towards – and then simply doesn’t. This makes Family Film strangely unsatisfying, perhaps even slightly pretentious with its hip music and the occasional use of a fisheye lens. Neither head nor tail, we’re left with a story that follows a very specific privileged family, but also tries to ask more general philosophical questions. ‘Are we bored because we have everything?’ ‘How can boredom be challenged?’ ‘How do you deal with bad news that affects you deeply, yet’s located in the past?’ Yet because the film doesn’t decide which one to take on, its traces get lost in pretty pictures and music – funny, but not that funny, dramatic, but not that dramatic… perhaps boredom is the closest thing we viewers can relate to.
Olmo Omerzu’s Family Film can be seen on Saturday 26 November (18:00) at the Regent Street cinema, as part of the Made in Prague Festival 2016, organised by the Czech Centre, London.