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One of the most talked about films of the year at international festivals, Family Viewing> is as extraordinary and surprising as it is original. Egyptian born, Canadian bred writer/director Atom Egoyan was only 27 when he made this, his second feature, on a miniscule budget of less than $A200,000.
It's a quintessentially eighties film displaying all the uneasiness of a Talking Heads song or a Don Delillo novel, observing with a cool voyeuristic eye the splitting of one atomic family, and the creation of a more satisfactory unconventional family structure in its place.
Humorous, unpredictable, complex and
hugely inventive in its use of TV and video, this is the story of a family dislocated by modern technology. The family 'on view here is that of Van, an aimless, melancholy 19 year old searching for his roots. Sifting through the
rubble of his personal history, Van realises that his father Stan, has buried all traces of his ex- wife (Van's mother) since she left them years ago. In one of the film's most telling scenes, Van discovers that Stan, a video equipment salesman has been literally erasing the family history (old tapes of the family that was) by recording over them his curious sexual pursuits with his new lover. Not surprisingly, Stan has also neglected his ailing mother-in- law, an embarrassing reminder of his past life, who is painfully unhappy in the nursing home where Van is her only visitor.
Video is central to the film, from TV and
home movies to pornography and surveillance
and Egoyan has shot substantial sections of the film on differing kinds of tape, creating
different looks. All the scenes shot in Stan`s
home (a semi-fashionable apartment) are shot
on video, giving the effect of watching a twisted sit-com being played out before our eyes.
Family Viewing is many things - a perceptive look at questions of familial disintegration, the immigrant experience, sexual frustration and the ever-spreading contamination of the electronic media - but most of all, it's deeply and darkly funny. One thing it sure isn‘t, is family viewing.