The saying goes that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Yet if you were to go by the events in 2019 Australian-by-the-way-of-Ukraine dark-comedy A Family, you might just be able to hire a family.
Set in Ukraine and taking place somewhere within the time of flip-phones and bulky computer monitors, A Family is Director Jayden Stevens’ message of solidarity to the lonely.
With a portable yet cumbersome video camera in hand, Ukranian man Emerson (Pavlo Lehenkyi) hires a group of strangers to play his family in a series of recordings. Recreating moments including Christmas morning, keyboard recitals, and meditation circles where his “family” hum together as though they were in a temple, the bizarre events that ensue throughout A Family result in an oddly-hilarious film that delivers the laughter in droves.
How Emerson becomes consumed by loss escalates to extreme absurdity. A feat which remains in-tune with Stevens creation of a deadpan world that includes characters engaging in morose, Wes Anderson-esque dialogue. Lehenkyi delivers a moving performance as Emerson. His respect for the material coupled with his ability to capture the innocence of a grief-stricken man in need of connection elevates the material and prevents A Family from turning into a farce.
The decision made by Stevens, an Australian filmmaker, to direct a film about grief based in a language he cannot speak is a brave effort for a first-time feature film director. Stevens positions a Ukraine that is desolate and bleak; devoid of colour, sound and people. His ability to capture Emerson’s deep-sense of emptiness through production design – with particular praise given to Thomas Swinburns cinematography – and carry this feeling throughout the entirety of the film is nothing short of exquisite.
It is clear from early on that Emerson is a man dealing with loss. The camera makes no effort to hide it, lingering on individual family members as though it were staring at a ghost. A Family is more suggestive than explanatory when it comes to Emerson’s family history. And why should it be otherwise? Families are complex vehicles to operate, with Stevens having a clear understanding of this in what culminates to be a poignant-yet-stunningly beautiful ode to family. A Family is A Triumph!
A Family is screening as part of the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Image: Pavlo Lehenkyi stars as Emerson in A Family (supplied)
Review: Hagan Osborne