Family and Beyond

in 57th Krakow Film Festival

by Barbara Giza

How social are we as human beings? How much family and people around are shaping us? Who or what gives us our identity? How much social life is nothing more than a field of rules and deals, making us confident that what we do is right, and how much could it be the surce of oppression, madness, crime?

These questions seem to connect a lot of films shown during the 57th Krakow Film Festival. Especially family as the field of artistic exploration – family as a specific kind of a difficult endevour, destroying relations between people. The examples are The Beksinskis. A Sound and Picture Album, The Family, Plasticine Family, Rodnye (Close Relations), Adriana’s Pact, One Ticket, Please, General and Me, where family connections are put to the test by politics, history, but mainly by the egoism and weakness of its members, asking themselves what a family is and how reliable it is.

As for The Beksinskis, it shows the relations between parents and son, but also between husband and wife, father and son, and – last but not least – between a great artist, strong and influential personality, and his son, who is very sensitive and unable to manage his life. What we are watching is made by Beksinski himself, whose hobby was filmmaking. That is what makes everydayness the main subject of the story, demonstrating how oppressive it could be.

Similarly, film is used as a way of describing everydayness in Dum Spiro Spero. It is a story about a writer, fighting a deadly illness. Everyday life in his house in the outskirts of a small city offers a new, harsher perspective on time and illness. The relations between family members are not too close, and the people observed by the filmmaker hardly show any emotions, thus alienation becomes the main subject of this film.

A very interesting example of complicated family relations is Adriana’s Pact, directed by Lissette Orozco. It is a story about the regime of Augusto Pinochet, told by a young woman, whose aunt is accused of taking part in the terror. The older woman is strong, very clever and a very unreliable witness and a liar, who is hiding in a foreign country. Discovering her real face is a painful experience for the niece, desperately looking for truth as salvation.

Another example of a family in crisis is Rodnye (Close Relations). Some members of this family live in Lviv, some in Crimea, others in Moscow and in Kiev. Ukraine is a country, divided by war and torn by national dispute about past and future. Every member of this family is touched by the conflict, people do not know how to talk to each other, how to trust and stay close.

Politics is also the reason of crisis in The General and Me, directed by Tiana Alexandra Silliphant, whose family is a victim of the Vietnam War. For the sake of her father, immigrant to America, and for the sake of her own search of identity, she goes to Vietnam and meets general Võ Nguyên Giáp, the legendary Vietnamese war hero. This film has been almost thirty years in the making, and exemplifies a very intimate and very politically engaged point of view.

The last example here is The Family, an Australian film about a cult and its guru, Anne Hamilton – Byrne. The cult has been kidnapping children and making false adoptions. Children were kept for many years in this kind of „family”. The film is made in the investigative journalist style, and shows how much the „family” has traumatized those children, today adults, fighting depression and fear.

The examples above demonstrate the strong trend in documentary cinema to focus on family in crisis, caused by lack of solidarity, some sense of exhaustion, and lack of purpose. Family thus emerges not as a source of peace and happiness, something to run to, but a source of pain, something to run away from, and, what’s probably worse, such a conclusion does not seem to come as a surprise to anyone anymore.

Edited by Christina Stojanova