there were a competition for unfussy ways to get your characters
where you need them to tell your story then Familia
Rodante would surely be up for at least a nomination.
At her 84th bitrthday party, Grandmother Emilia announces
that she is to be the matron of honour at her niece's wedding
in Brazil, and that her entire immediate family should accompany
her on the 1000 kilometre journey and they all just do it. Maybe,
just maybe, this tells us something of the status of the
eldest matriarch in Argentinean families, that her word
is not to be questioned, no matter how inconvenient or potentially
uncomfortable the results might be.
so off they go, thirteen family members spanning four generations
and over eighty years, all crammed into the back of a small
camper van. You just know from the start that the journey
is going to be filled with incident and that the characters
will undergo various degrees of change before they reach
their destination. Well they do and they don't. Yes there
are incidents en route, but nothing too out of the ordinary
or that dramatic. Yes some of the characters undergo change,
but little that you'd categorise as surprising or profound. Thus when the driver
starts to doze off and nearly hits an oncoming lorry, he
quickly regains control and carries on unharmed. When a
child loses a sandal when dangling his foot out of the window,
they simply stop the van and go back and get it. And when the van runs
out of petrol, one of the group is dispatched to procure some
more. Young cousins get the hots for each other and then
argue and then get reconcile, and a husband who fancies
the wife of another tries it on with her and is thrown out
of the van when he is caught.
all ordinary, run-of-the-mill stuff, and that's clearly
the point, but whether or not you connect with the characters,
and by association what happens to them, may very well be a personal
thing. Certainly some have revelled in the film's character
detail and seen the family group as a metaphor for Argentinean
society as a whole, while others have complained at the
lack of focus and absence of purpose and direction. They
may all have a point. For my own part I was intrigued but
rarely involved, and felt much of the time like an unseen
guest in the van, surrounded by strangers and never getting
to know any of them on more than a superficial level. The
sense of claustrophobia within the vehicle is well communicated,
although this was evident even at the opening birthday party,
with the frame frequently filled with heads and bodies of
multiple family members in close proximity to one another,
suggesting the sort of close family unit that later events
suggest they actually may not be.
edited and scored, the film certainly has its moments, my
favourite being the genuinely funny shot of the van being
pushed forward by family members, followed eventually by
the loudly supervising figure of Grandmother Emilia. As
a slice of modern Argentinean life it's of genuine interest,
not least in the scene that quietly hints at the everyday
nature of police bribery, but Familia Rodante
proved, for me at least, a largely affable rather than engaging
experience, and I perhaps too frequently felt as if I was
watching background action for a story that was taking place
Updated 11 April 2006
1.66:1, the transfer loses points straight off for being
non-anamorphic, and even though the mighty Criterion have
also been presenting films in this frame format without
anamorphic enhancement of late, it doesn't make it a good
thing, especially if your TV does not support a 14:9 zoom
mode (and there are even some big Plasmas out there that
shamefully do not).
I first reviewed the disc I was convinced that the picture
had been cropped from 1.85:1 to 1.66:1 (although admittedly
WHY anyone would do this was beyond me) due to the occasionally
uncomfortably tight framing – the grab above is a very good
example. I reserved final judgement on this until I'd seen
the film in the cinema, and having done so I can happily
report that 1.66:1 is indeed the correct aspect ratio and
that frame grab is a completely accurate representation
of how the film looks on the big screen. I may wince at
such framing, but it is correct, and that is all that matters.
other respects the picture is fine, with colour, contrast
and sharpness all ver pleasing.
Dolby stereo 2.0 soundtrack is a very decent job, with a
good dynamic range and impressive separation on music and
background effects (cars passing, etc.).
The Trailer (2:43) is niftily
assembled and makes the film look more look considerably
more dramatic and incident packed than it is.
Pablo Trapero Biography is brief
and to the point.
of 'Familia Rodante (20:47), also framed 1.66:1,
combines interviews with director Trapero and Graciana Chironi,
who plays Grandmother Emilia and is Trapero's actual grandmother,
with behind-the-scenes footage and extracts from two of
Trapero's previous films. This is an engaging and interesting
piece, not least for the foiotage of the rigged van, which
allowed a small film crew to travel on platforms built on
all sides while the vehicle moved.
of a strong narrative, Familia Rodante
lives or dies by its characters, and your reaction to the
film will depend primarily on how fully you engage with
them, something I never really did on any meaningful level.
The trip itself would have benefited from a little more
in the way of unpredictable drama, or even some of the quirkiness
that made Andrew Kotting's 1997 Gallivant
(which also has the director's grandmother travelling across
country) so engaging.
for the DVD, well I've confirmed that the aspect ratio is
correct, despite my original suspicions, but still wish
the picture was anamorphically enhanced. The film is still
of interest, though, and has attracted enough positive reaction
to suggest that my failure to engage with it and its
characters could well be is very much my problem. As a note
of interest the cinema was full for our screening, and audience
reaction was generally very positive. So don't be put off
from checking it out if you have the chance, but be sure
before you buy.