Happy Families

Happy Families


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Families are as diverse as the individuals of which they are comprised and this collection of short films looks deep into some very perculiar people.

Our National Parks (26 mins) takes us on a family trip into a comfortable resort wilderness. An elderly couple holiday with their two sons, but something is clearly amiss; the mother is distant and surly, ignoring everything around her. When she goes missing everyone assumes she's gone for "one of her walks", but she doesn't return that night and Father begins to worry. This is a bleak, accomplished social drama that is well photographed and acted, brushing with themes of mental decay and the effect of youth on the aged; an interesting piece of cinema.

The second short is 6 Ft In 7 Min (14 mins). It's Rajeev's birthday. He's 18 today and doing the things that any teenager will do - smoking pot in the bathroom and being stroppy - but his parents announce that this year's celebration is going to be special. Very special. Comedy shorts rely on originality of concept and characters that are easily understood and instantly recognisable. When Rajeev's practical, deadpan parents announce that he has only seven minutes left to live both of these requirements are fulfilled and the ensuing action is very, very funny.

The death of a child breaks up any family; everyday hardships become unbearable and every toy becomes a catalyst for a torrent of painful reminiscence. Last Summer's Room (17 mins) revolves around a single mother's distress after her daughter dies, dipping into her memories and spinning a story of beautiful melancholy. An entrancing vision of urban life in a poor area of a South Korean town, mostly shot in and around their apartment. It's a sad, yet moving short.

Ruty is living in denial of her Morrocan roots, ignoring her sister and never looking back at the society she clawed her way out of. However, when her daughter comes home with her new husband, she must decide whether to embrace tradition, or ostracise her child forever. Henna (Pleading) (19 mins) is a worthy tale, but the action is unengaging and the main character does little to help you empathise with her internal conflicts; it ends up feeling ploddingly dull.

Short but sweet, Mary (3 mins) is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it film about America's addiction to pharmaceutical therapy and the correct way to deal with biblical visions. It's beautifully shot in the intricate suburban style of Todd Solonz' movies and has the offbeat humour of films like Napoleon Dynamite. I can't think of a better way to spend three minutes.

As a collection of shorts Happy Families is mostly excellent - the only exception being the fairly tedious Henna (Pleading) - and the choices complement each other well. The serious and unsettling drama of Our National Parks and Last Summer's Room provides artistic credibility and the comic genius of 6 Ft In 7 Min and Mary makes sure you don't get bored. Excellent stuff.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2005
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A collection of shorts from America, South Korea and Israel showing very strange sides to family life.

Director: John Magary, Rafael Del Toro, Lee Je-hui, Idan Hubel, Aaron Ruell

Writer: John Magary, Rafael Del Toro, Lee Je-hui, Idan Hubel, Aaron Ruell

Starring: John D McNally, Barbara Dana, Rajiv Surendra, Yousef Gaffary, Kwak Soo-jung, Ji Sun-ye, Ahuva Keren, Karin Ben-Yakov, Victoria Justice Suzie Pollard

Year: 2004

Runtime: 79 minutes

Country: US/South Korea/Israel


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