Review: Family Idiots
by Bénédicte Prot
- Michael Klier's family portrait, screened at the Munich Film Festival, is a story rich in humanism, modest yet deeply moving in its nuanced way of going back to basics
The familiar trope of adult siblings who now live separate lives coming back to their family home often has varying degrees of success, but the fifth feature film by Michael Klier, Family Idiots – screened in world premiere in the New German Cinema section at Munich Film Festival – is a very successful variation on the theme.
The film stars three brothers: the eldest is a classical clarinettist who sticks doggedly to his views and is somewhat moralistic (Kai Scheve), then there’s Bruno, the idealist research worker attracted by all things humanitarian and who listens to problems in order to find solutions (Florian Stetter) and finally there’s the younger jazz musician brother who lives more of a bohemian lifestyle (Hanno Koffler). The siblings have returned to their family home, where their two sisters still live, to celebrate the marriage of their eldest sibling, Heli (Jördis Triebel). Of course, everyone still has their individual frustrations and neuroses, they clash sometimes, and they might not always agree, but they are brothers and sisters, and despite the years that have passed and their new adult lives, they find it so easy to be together, because they know each other so well, love each other and are as close as when they were children. This fusional element is also nicely illustrated by the motif of proximity, through gestures and totally intimate, innocent and even somewhat infantile moments of contact, along with the squabbling and kisses.
And then there is Ginnie (Lilith Stangenberg), their autistic little sister who they’ve always looked after. And yet, although their lives have largely focused on a constant desire to protect her, in a sense it is she who "shows" them, as one of the brothers says. The plurality of the title and the obvious reference to Idiots by Lars von Trier (beyond the title of the film, the film’s devices are stripped down – a camera, no music apart from songs performed by the characters in the film – and innocence prevails even in the most direct scenes, without being crude) suggests that it is Ginnie who is right. It is she who has always taught them not to judge, to be more attentive and open to the complexity of human feelings and expressions and to see beyond spontaneous reactions (hers in relation to physical contact for example, which is sometimes sought and sometimes rejected).
And while we follow the camera on Patrick Orthas’ shoulder, as if we were members of the family, in a succession of intimate scenes between brothers and sisters (tense dialogue to confessions, instrumental recitals, individual moments...), we truly feel the delicacy, benevolence and complexity of emotions that makes each scene so beautiful and touching – especially the one in which Bruno gets into Ginnie's childhood bed to see what it's like and ends up trapped, or the marvellous scene in which the siblings dance together while the two musical brothers play their instruments.
The entire film is beautifully carried by the nuanced and frankly perfect performances of its five actors (particularly worthy is Stangenberg’s acting abilities in this difficult role) and we leave the film calmly affected by all the love and humanism it contains.
(Translated from French)
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