Charm Circle

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Charm Circle
"There's a winning combination of warmth and honesty to the way that she and her family share their lives that opens the door to viewers and asks them to shift their perspective."

Nira Burstein's feature documentary debut - which had its world premiere at Sheffield DocFest this week - is the sort of intimate, personal tale which I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot more of in the wake of all the world's Covid lockdowns. Shot over six years, in pre-Covid times, she turns her camera and her attention to her childhood home in Queens, New York.

"It always seems normal if it's the only thing you know," her dad Uri says towards the end of the film - an observation that is likely to strike a chord with many who have grown up in households that they have only come to realise, in adulthood, are far less than conventional. Nira's home is a case in point, stuffed with stuff, she considers her dad and mum Raya today, while home video footage from her childhood, along with her sisters gives a sense of how things used to be.

Pieces of the past emerge as we see how mental health challenges have loomed increasingly large, with her mum spending time in hospital leading to her father, in turn, suffering from deteriorating mental health. Nira captures the complexities of this situation, exploring the lives and emotions that lie behind medical labels in ways that will act as a reminder for many that having a condition does not mean that you are wholly defined by it.

The catalyst for the film seems to have been the decision of Nira's sister Adina, to have a polyamorous marriage, something her father refuses to be a part of and this provides a loose arc, although the film is more a meander through family history and the ties that bind rather than driven by a search for resolution.

Not unlike Lynne Sachs' recent A Film About A Father Who, there is an element of film as family therapy here, as Nira gently probes the tougher elements of her past, as we see she and her sister often took on young carer duties for their parents and sister, who has Tourette's and OCD.  This means that, in documentary terms, this is unconventional too, but there's a winning combination of warmth and honesty to the way that Nira and her family share their lives that opens the door to viewers and asks them to shift their suspect, with her father's music providing a suitably eclectic accompaniment.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2021
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After uncovering a treasure trove of home videos documenting the moments of love, laughter, and musical expression that punctuated an otherwise tumultuous upbringing, filmmaker Nira Burstein returns to her childhood home – now crumbling from the inside out – to explore whether she and her two sisters can reconnect with her parents.

Director: Nira Burstein

Year: 2021

Runtime: 79 minutes

Festivals:

Doc/Fest 2021

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