Un Air De Famille

I prefer this hard-edged comedy-drama to director Cedric Klapisch’s more sweet-tempered When the Cat’s Away, not because I’m a grouch but because the material is much denser, with half a dozen characters who surprise us at every turn. A family gathers for an acrimonious dinner in its own cafe; practically everyone treats everyone else badly, and despite a couple of faux-lyrical flashbacks we never really discover why. The mother shows more love toward the paralyzed family dog than toward any of her kids; her favorite son abuses his wife (Catherine Frot); her other son (Jean-Pierre Bacri), the family scapegoat, has recently alienated his wife; and her daughter (Agnes Jaoui) sneers at everyone, including the thoughtful waiter with whom she’s having an affair (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). This ‘Scope film won Cesars (the French equivalent of Oscars) in 1997 for best screenplay, supporting actress (Frot), and supporting actor (Darroussin), and all three were fully deserved. The screenplay is adapted from a play by Jaoui and Bacri, a couple who’ve scripted the last three Alain Resnais features, and while it isn’t bad, Klapisch and the authors haven’t fully turned it into a moviein some ways Bacri and Jaoui are more impressive as quirky actors. Klapisch hasn’t the foggiest notion of when or how to use music, but he does a fine job with the actors, and like the play itself he has a warm feeling for outcasts and a nice way of rewarding the audience for sharing those feelings. (JR)

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