Review: Fête de famille (2019)

Fête de famille (2019)

Directed by: Cedric Kahn | 110 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Bercot, Vincent Macaigne, Cédric Kahn, Luàna Bajrami, Laetitia Colombani, Alain Artur, Joshua Rosinet, Milan Hatala, Solal Ferreira Dayan, Satya Dusaugey, Raphaël Liot, Teddy Perrot, Kahina Le Querrec, Antoine Amblard

Andréa (Catherine Deneuve) celebrates her seventieth birthday with her close family in ‘Fête de famille’. Her children and grandchildren gather in their slightly dilapidated country house for a cozy get-together. At first, only the sudden rain shower seems to throw a spanner in the works, but then eldest daughter Claire (Emmanuelle Bercot) also shows up, who hasn’t shown herself for a few years. It soon becomes apparent that there are quite a few frayed edges to the apparently idyllic picture – and enough people who are just too happy to tug at those edges to see what happens.

In the meantime, the grandchildren are practicing a self-invented play that is supposedly not about their own family (but in which the characters all have the same first names and roles).

Deneuve is initially the central pivot in the story as the “mater familias” Andreá. Once Claire comes on the scene, the story shifts more towards her perspective. The family pretends it’s all very nice and tries to create a birthday atmosphere, but the tensions and frustrations lie just below the surface. And at the slightest it erupts.

Eldest son Vincent (director Cédric Kahn himself) is objectively the most successful in his career and his material prosperity, which his younger brother Romain (Vincent Macaigne) views with thinly veiled envy. Romain is the hipster of the family, with his long hair, beard, smooth manners and self-proclaimed cinematic talent. His new Argentine girlfriend Rosita (Isabel Aimé González-Sola) also seems to be an ornament to him. Romain insists on filming the family reunion for a sketchy film project and gets a lot of bang for the buck when the dynamics are disrupted with Claire’s arrival. Claire’s daughter Emma (Luàna Bajrami), who was raised by her grandparents, is especially unhappy that her mother is suddenly back on the doorstep. Only Andréa’s husband Jean (Alain Artur), who is the father of Vincent and Romain, and Vincent’s wife Marie (Laetitia Colombani) get off to a rough start in a role in the background.

In no time at all, the first crackling quarrel breaks out when Claire claims her inheritance in the mansion. Then it turns out that the family relationships are all a lot more complicated than you initially think as a viewer. Bercot plays very strongly as the mentally unstable and temperamental Claire and also Kahn and Macaigne are convincing as her brothers who have very different personalities. Vincent is the fairly normal of the whole bunch, while Romain is a clumsy bungler who evokes little sympathy. Especially if he wants to recreate the fight about the sale of the house (a crucial “scene”) that he missed. Deneuve tries to radiate a serene calm – even if she is very emotional – but her phlegmatic attitude is taken very far. Incidentally, no one thinks of Vincent and Marie’s young sons, who get everything from the first rank and are actually much too young for all these adult problems. It does say something about the dysfunction of this family.

‘Fête de famille’ lasts less than an hour and a half, which is certainly short for a feature film these days. Despite that, the actors get enough scenes to create well-developed characters – and to clash verbally with each other.

‘Fête de famille’ seems like a typical French family film in which a lot of people yell at each other about trivialities – which has a comic effect – but in the meantime Kahn also tries to broach all kinds of serious subjects. It just doesn’t help the balance, because it gradually gets lost. Director Kahn has a lot of surprises in store, but not everything works equally well. The imbalance breaks up the film in the last act, leaving the viewer with a sense that there could have been a lot more to this film and this talented cast.

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