Ordinary people
A region 2 DVD review of FAMILIA RODANTE by Slarek
 

If there were a competition for unfussy ways to get your characters to where you need them in order 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.

And 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 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.

It's 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 effectively 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.

Splendidly 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 elsewhere.

sound and vision

Updated 11 April 2006.

Framed 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).

When 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.

In other respects the picture is fine, with colour, contrast and sharpness all ver pleasing.

The 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.).

extra features

The Trailer (2:43) is niftily assembled and makes the film look more look considerably more dramatic and incident packed than it is.

The Pablo Trapero Biography is brief and to the point.

Making 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.

summary

Shorn 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.

As 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.

Familia Rodante

Argentina / Brazil / France / Germany / Spain / UK 2004
99 mins
director
Pablo Trapero
starring
Graciana Chironi
Liliana Capurro
Rth Dobel
Bernardo Forteza
Carlos Resta

DVD details
region 2
video
1.66:1 letterboxed
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
Spanish
subtitles .
English
extras
Trailer
Pablo Trapero biography
Making-of featurette
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
27 March 2006
review posted
23 March 2006
updated
11 April 2006