This article is adapted from AQ’s print issue on youth in Latin America
Bruno and Consuelo (Blanca Lewin and Cristián Carvajal) need to shake up their marriage, and a months-long trip to France with their daughter seems like it might do the trick. A distant cousin, the morose 30-something Martín (Jorge Becker), agrees to look after the house while they’re gone. Martín has just lost his father and is struggling to keep a job. Bruno and Consuelo are doing their best to beat back a nagging complacency that has entered their relationship. Audiences of Cristián Jiménez and Alicia Scherson’s film Family Life (Vida de Familia) are encouraged to ask: What could possibly go wrong?
It doesn’t take long to find out. After Martín tires of rummaging through closets and old photo albums, he begins to take ownership of Bruno and Consuelo’s house in both comical and disturbing ways. He quickly loses track of the cat, and while trying to find it runs into — and seduces — the free-wheeling Paz (Gabriela Arancibia). Martín invites Paz to the house and presents himself as its owner, telling her the little girl’s room belongs to a daughter his ex-wife won’t allow him to see; it’s clear Martín is more comfortable playing a role than engaging in the self-reflection he needs. When his romantic relationship with Paz begins to crack, Martín’s internal isolation threatens to break him down completely.
Family Life doesn’t try to pathologize or alleviate Martín’s depression. Instead, it finds meaning and humor in his attempts to be someone else for a change. The English title of this darkly comic tale of arrested development is an apt translation for Vida de Familia. Yet Jiménez and Scherson are particularly interested in mining the grammatical indeterminacy found in their original Spanish title, which offers a slight distinction between leading a family life and the life one leads as part of a family. Becker’s deadpan performance is the key to the film, which seems intent on exposing the fabricated and performative nature of shared intimacies, especially those that turn family houses into family homes.
Family Life (Vida de Familia)
Directed by Cristián Jiménez and Alicia Scherson
Written by Alejandro Zambra
Starring Jorge Becker, Gabriela Arancibia, Blanca Lewin and Cristián Carvajal
AQ’s Rating: 7/10
Betancourt is a New York City-based writer and editor.