Sydney Film Festival: My Happy Family

Antony Ling
19th Jun 2017

There is definitely something to be said about how much we take things for granted sometimes. Especially family - a stable, loving and accepting family at that. My Happy Family is certainly a meditative film on that aspect, portraying a spectrum of overbearing, conservative, patriarchal family shackles and the woman that seeks to escape from all that and then some.

Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß, My Happy Family certainly has a sublime quality of the ordinary that the film exemplifies with its main character played by Ia Shugliashvili. Life is not all glitz and glamour, especially for a middle-aged high school teacher and mother Manana who just wants to move through with life with less depression and more meaning. This is of course compounded by the extraordinary and overbearing family norms that are explored throughout this Georgian family like a David Attenborough wildlife documentary of the most intimate sort.

The camera shakily conveys the tension and mishmash of multiple generations found in the home of the titular family, with three generations living under one roof. On one moment, you’ll see the stereotypical young boy scrolling endlessly on his smartphone with his headphones on, and the in next, the camera pans to a grandmother lamenting egregiously that her lost daughter (our poor protagonist) got all the neurotic traits from the father.

One cannot overstate how calm the camera is, even indulging in some serene frames of the family matriarch just having a cup of tea while reading a book that advocates on the little things in life. The nature of peace is certainly a theme of sorts for this film especially with all the juxtaposition of noise that occurs throughout the crowded home. And what a dance of drama-driven noise it is! There are a couple of scenes where basically everyone in the family goes nuts at each other. When you see the emotional and semantic clash of old and young under one roof, one cannot begin to imagine how many rehearsals were taken in order to capture that natural, authentic conflict with so many different voices shared within the shot.

Maybe it was the result of some phenomenal improvisation, but regardless, the performance of everybody cannot be underestimated with brilliant chemistry with each other that makes you feel like this is the most dysfunctional yet loving Georgian family on Earth.

The film does not shy away from comedy to demonstrate how ridiculously clingy a family can be. In a culture where maladaptive, traditional values loom over the family thanks to the grandparents, uncles, and aunties within, the absurdity of some of it is expressed in some cathartic, resonating and ultimately hilarious lines.. The use of props certainly can be noticeable from the familiar cake slices being prepared and eaten like rituals, to the absolute messy clutter of different cultural belongings and interior design found in the home of the multi-generation family. It helps convey a sense of tangibility in Manana’s spirit showing how emotionally draining it can be to have to experience so many stimuli.

My Happy Family is a patient film from pace and tone. It benefits from a gentle viewing in a good headspace that is expecting nothing but a decent human story. You cannot help but feel for Manana’s resolve and relate to her slices of life. Such slices of life that accumulate into a sweet and loving tale on the big screen.