The Happiest Family in the World

in 9 th Jameson Cinefest Miskolc International Film Festival

by György Báron

“You don’t have to watch my film. Go and watch better films,” said Radu Jude to a surprised young reporter for Festival News in Miskolc. We couldn’t follow the advice: his new film, Everybody in Our Family (Toata lumea din familia noastra) was the best picture in the international competition program of the Jameson-Cinefest. After the young director’s strong and convincing debut with his memorable short The Tube with a Hat (Lampa cu caciula), his first full-length feature The Happiest Girl in the World (Cea mai fericita fata din lume) was slightly disappointing. That funny and enjoyable satire lacked the dark colours and the metaphysical depth of the masterpieces of Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu and Radu Muntean. Now, with his second feature, Jude has positioned himself among the front guard of the new Romanian cinema. As Jay Weissberg wrote in Variety after the film’s opening in Berlin: “Fests now have their required Romanian title of the season.”

As with his first movie, Everybody in Our Family also tells the story of one day. Jude’s chamber play perfectly keeps a unity of time and space. After twenty minutes we enter the small apartment of Marius’s divorced wife, her boyfriend and her mother and we stay there during the remaining eighty minutes of the film. From early morning, we follow Marius on his way to visit his five-year-old daughter, taking her to the sea for the weekend. He has prepared well for the trip, packing a lot of funny-coloured plastic toys for the kid. In the morning he gets up early in his tiny bachelor flat, and first goes to his parents to borrow their car. The old folks are constantly quarrelling with him, suggesting that he is a good-for-nothing whose life is a mess. Marius can hardly escape from the embracing arms of his loving parents. He drives to his ex’s apartment in a typical block of houses somewhere in Romania. Only his mother-in-law Coca and her ex’s boyfriend Aurel are at home with the child; his ex Otilia is still in a beauty parlour. Aurel doesn’t want to let the girl leave until her mother arrives because she’s ill, he explains to the impatient father. We cannot decide if it’s a simple excuse, the divorced wife’s revenge, or whether little Sofia is really sick. The two men, like a strange couple, wait and wait, enclosed in the cage of this unpleasant situation. Marius wants to leave; Aurel tries to hold them back. After a while their debate and fight for the girl turns into chaos, with hate, swear words, humiliation, and verbal and physical violence. Marius step by step loses control and reaches a dangerous point of no return; Otilia, after getting home, calls the police.

The day that started well and promised a nice vacation turns into a bloody nightmare. Andrei Butica’s handheld camera moves around the claustrophobic space of the narrow apartment with high virtuosity, following the hectic players from room to room. The actors don’t seem to act at all. They’re so natural that we can think they are real family members, not professional actors who are playing roles. This natural way of acting is the opposite of Hollywood’s “method acting”, and reminds us of the style of John Cassavetes, whose actors mostly improvised their scenes. Jude’s bitter satire goes as close to reality as possible, keeping a perfect balance between comedy and tragedy – which is the constant hallmark of the Romanian new cinema.

Edited by Carmen Gray