Posted by: Megan Ogar | March 1, 2010

Review: ‘Familia’

It’s been a story 36 years in the making.

Swedish filmmaker Mikael Wiström first met the Barrientos family in 1974 when he left Sweden to explore the world. Amid a Peruvian trash dump, a beautiful couple raising a small baby in a tent near the heap struck Wiström.

He began to snap still photos of the family, and Natividad and Daniel Barrientos have captivated his attention ever since. Along with collaborative partner, Alberto Herskovits, he has created three films centered around their lives, the latest being Familia, shown at this weekend’s True False Festival.

The film takes a poignant and honest look at family life and accurately depicts the peasant struggle in Peru. With stunningly beautiful camerawork, the film is so real that at its end, viewers may feel as if they’re leaving Lima instead of the theater.

Numerous problems plague the Barrientos family – disease, unpaid bills, spousal and alcohol abuse to name just a few. Each member of the family has his or her own story to tell, but the focus of the film is on Natividad, affectionately known as Nati, the matriarch of the family.

Nati decides to leave her family for Spain in search of the possibility for a better life for them and namely her youngest son, Natanael.

Unable to give too much attention to her older children as she works to support the family, Nati wants to give her youngest the life her other children never had. It is for this reason that she boards the plane, leaving her family to work as a maid.

The whole family feels her absence and make their best attempts to fill the void left in her wake. Young Nata prays for his mother each day, not fully understanding why she left but knowing that she’ll one day come back. Judith, the couple’s second daughter, grapples with her feelings of inadequacy and guilt about not being able to provide for the family.

Though the film is entirely in Spanish, subtitles aren’t always needed. The camera catches moments of such raw emotion that language barriers cease to exist. The movie follows the year and a half long wait until Nati returns home to Peru.

The film is a bit slow-moving, with little music or background interruption, but each moment delves deeper into the complex family dynamic at play in the Peruvian home. The pacing of the film makes the wait for Nati’s return that much more real for the viewer – living the day-to-day without her is a struggle, and the viewer lives each moment.

In fact, the viewer becomes so involved in the characters that the film’s end leaves a hunger to know what happened to the Barrientos.

Though Wiström’s close personal relationship with the family is never directly addressed in this film – he is godfather to the oldest Barrientos daughter and considers the family some of his oldest friends  – it is felt through the level of intimacy the camera is allowed.

The viewer is not just an intrusive fly on the wall in the Barrientos home, but a welcome addition to the family. Wiström said in a Q and A after the film that his and the family’s cinematic relationship has come to a close, but their friendship will remain.

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