Everybody in Our Family: “Atmospheric, touching and defiantly small-scale”
Previously, the only film by the Romanian director Radu Jude to receive a general release in the UK is Aferim!, an eccentric, stylized take on Western genre tropes that slowly reveals itself to be a commentary on a historical atrocity little-known outside Eastern Europe. Now, Second Run have released his sophomore feature Everybody in Our Family on Blu-Ray, and it initially seems hard to believe the director of Aferim! made this. On the surface level, Everybody in Our Family is an entry in the cycle of deliberately paced, bleakly funny Romanian realist films that emerged in the wake of Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (which Jude was an assistant director on). That, though, is the surface level.
In the accompanying booklet, Carmen Gray rues that the 2000s “new wave” of Romanian cinema quickly hardened into mannerism, and Jude makes similar complaints in the supplementary material. He dismisses 1980s Romanian cinema as one long string of bad Tarkovsky impersonations, and says part of his motivation in making Everybody in Our Family was a sense that no previous Romanian film had dealt honestly with the topic of divorce.
So what is Jude doing differently? I have to confess to having little love for the Romanian New Wave; every time Cristian Mungiu opens his films with another pitilessly on-the-nose metaphor (a fish tank in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, dirt being dug up in Graduation) something inside me dies. The opening scene of Everybody in Our Family, by contrast, is a little gem of unobtrusive character-building. Each cut, each camera move fills in something more about Şerban Pavlu’s Marius and his overgrown-student life. There is the wall-filling DVD collection, the poster of Che Guevara, the ice pack he holds to his hungover head, and also one thing that doesn’t seem to fit at all: a lurid pink stuffed toy in the shape of an octopus.
The toy is a gift for his five-year-old daughter Sofia, played with wonderful naturalism by Sofia Nicolaescu. Marius is allowed to see her for a scant fifteen days a year but he’s convinced that she’d be far better off with him than her mother and her mother’s new partner. Over the course of a single day, Marius’s resentments boil over, leading to in a bizarre hostage situation that Jude captures using the same unobtrusive documentary-style camerawork as he used for the earlier scenes of Marius going through his morning routine.
If you were pitching Everybody in Our Family, you might liken it to What Maisie Knew adapted by Armando Iannucci. In Jude’s hands, though, the darker aspects overwhelm the comedy. For all Marius is too pathetic to do anything truly disturbing – this isn’t a Michael Haneke film – there is something more than just everyday stress behind his actions. Jude has recently completed a trilogy of films – Scarred Hearts, The Dead Nation and I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians – about Romania’s drift into fascism during World War II. In the Blu-Ray extras, Jude wonders if he accidentally captured something similar here, if Marius’s entitlement and refusal to countenance criticism of his own actions contains a germ of the themes he would explore later. It’s a possibility. If Jude’s characters go down in history as barbarians, he looks increasingly set to go down in history as one of the most committed political directors since the days of Costa-Gavras, and this chamber drama, skilfully made yet still in the shadow of its inspirations, may achieve a significance few would have predicted on its release.
As well as the interview with Jude and booklet by Carmen Gray, Second Run’s Blu-Ray also includes Jude’s first two shorts from 2006, one of which – Alexandra – is clearly a dry run for Everybody in Our Family. The other one, The Tube With a Hat, is a very different tale of a father and his child, dealing with a man and his son’s urgent quest to get their television fixed before a Bruce Lee movie comes on TV. Atmospheric, touching and defiantly small-scale, it’s even further away from Aferim! than the feature but is well worth watching nonetheless.