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A Dog Has his Day, and a Family is Saved
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10/29 Press Conference featuring “Family Film” from Competition Section
A Dog Has his Day, and a Family is Saved

Family Film

©2015 TIFF

A perfect-seeming family completely unravels in Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu’s second feature, Family Film, a TIFF Competition selection making its Asian premiere. The structurally audacious work begins as a domestic drama but continually veers into new, uncharted territory, taking the titular family — and the audience — on a journey that remains unpredictable throughout. At times a black comedy, a tense thriller, a melodramatic weepy and an ethnographic examination of the survival techniques of two species, Family Film is always stimulating and far more thought-provoking than its title would indicate.
After an opening that establishes the loving dynamic between liberal parents Igor (Karel Roden) and Irena (Vanda Hybnerová), and their children, high-schooler Anna (Jenovéfa Boková) and younger brother Erik (Daniel Kadlec), the couple embarks on an Indian Ocean cruise with the family dog, Otto, leaving Anna and her best pal Kristina (Eliška Křenková), to tend to Erik in the family’s well-appointed Prague flat. The children immediately do what all youngsters will do when the adults are away, and the first section of the film feels much like a droll coming-of-age drama. There are drugs, seductions, tattoos and spin-the-bottle games that result in nude elevator rides, as the teens attempt to stave off boredom. Their nights are punctuated with Skype calls from mom and dad’s boat on the high seas, and check-up visits from Igor’s brother Martin (Martin Pechlát). So far, so mundane.
But Erik soon gets caught for skipping school, the parents are reprimanded (on Skype) by the school administration for their negligence —“But we trust them completely,” insists Igor about the children, genuinely surprised his son has been irresponsible — and suddenly, things take a thoroughly unexpected turn. Soon after that, another drastic turn occurs, with the black-and-white collie Otto occupying much of the screen time in the latter two-thirds of Family Film.
Not surprisingly, the first question at a press conference for the film on October 29 concerned Otto’s significance to the tale. Omerzu responded, “I was inspired by an article I read about a family cruising in the Pacific on their yacht with their dog. Then they got lost and the dog ended up on an island, and survived, like Robinson Crusoe. I thought it would be interesting to see the contrast between everyday life and the dog surviving in no man’s land.”
Describing the three distinct story threads, the director continued, “At first we portray the children without parents, then the parents without children, and then the dog without the family. And in the end, the dog reappears to reconstruct the family. The dog is a metaphor for the family. I wanted to talk about the reconstructing, about the rebirth of the family.”
Commenting on accolades for the dog’s acting, cinematographer Luká š Milota admitted, “Frankly, I felt very uneasy, because I’ve never shot a dog before, nor shot in a tropical environment. We held auditions in Prague and chose three dogs, since they can’t shoot for a long time. The trainer rehearsed each sequence with the dogs in Prague, but I was uneasy about what would happen in the tropical environment.”
Tropical environments can be harsh, and viewers are subjected to Otto’s sometimes pitiful struggles to find food, to find shelter and to survive the elements, as well as his unexpected alienation for everything he has ever known.
One reporter mentioned that this was far more painful to watch than certain dramatic events taking place in parallel back in Prague. Omerzu nodded vigorously: “That’s one of the themes I wanted to depict, that sometimes people get more emotional looking at animals. In the cold wintertime, when people see a homeless person huddling outside, if there is a dog lying next to him, they will feel more pity for the dog.”
But the director hastened to add, “Although I’m showing a National Geographic-style documentary about frogs in the first scene, it’s quite ironic. The family’s situation is actually very emotional, but the storytelling is purposely opaque, and rather melodramatic, without a main character.”
Young actress Jenovéfa Boková, who portrays level-headed daughter Anna in the film, was asked how difficult it was to depict such a calm character when her best friend is so much wilder. “I’m like Anna in my private life,” said Boková, “so it was difficult when Kristina seduced my younger brother. Kristina is a very different personality, but I respect that. I understand that there are different kinds of people in the world.”
Queried about the recent prevalence of films featuring canines in leading roles, Omerzu said, “We spent a long time developing financing for the film, and we thought we were doing something really original. But then we discovered [Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s] White God, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language.” — “And Laurie Anderson’s new film, Heart of a Dog,” shouted someone in the audience. — “Yes,” laughed Omerzu. “And isn’t Isabella Rosselini’s Green Porno [screening in TIFF’s Panorama section] also about dogs? Something is obviously going on. It’s too bad we didn’t make this film a year earlier!”
Amid all the dog-centric discussion, producer Jiř í Konečný was given only a few moments for his comments, but they were important ones: “If I remember correctly, the last Czech movie that was screened at TIFF was Kolya in 1996. So I’m really proud to be here. But I should also mention that it this film was a coproduction between the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovenia, France and Slovakia.”
[Karen Severns]

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KEIRIN.JPThe 28th Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
27th Tokyo International Film Festival(2014)