From Chile comes this offbeat, sexually explicit character study that patiently explores strange corners of human behavior. Family Life opens on a married couple with a young daughter preparing to leave their city home to vacation together in Paris. The father, a professor, cultivates an intellectual air while privately indulging a crude lascivious streak. He and his wife worry about not only their precocious daughter, who’s started to exhibit anti-social behavioral problems, but also his cousin, the black sheep of the family, whom they haven’t seen for years but have asked to housesit for them while away.
And then, suddenly, this family of three has left for Paris, and we find ourselves alone and embedded in the mysterious life of this black sheep of a cousin. Are the family’s worries about their home justified? Oh yes — very much so. What follows is a striking tableau of domestic-set deception and low-key derangement.
The abrupt shift of focal characters in Family Life is executed quite simply—but, as in Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool (MdFF 2010), also feels quite radical, illustrating just how much trust we as viewers place in filmmakers and the characters they choose to share with us, how much feeling we invest in getting to know them, and how disorienting it can feel if they’re suddenly stripped away.
Alternating between dark comedy, romance, and brooding drama, Family Life is a prime example of the audacious cutting-edge narrative film work coming from Latin America today. Cristián Jiménez and Alicia Scherson, two of the country’s top filmmakers, have joined forces for this, the most intriguing, challenging, and rewarding foreign film I saw at Sundance 2017. (Eric Allen Hatch)