“Write about what you know,” the saying goes, and the same rule of thumb often applies to independent films, with many first-time filmmakers turning the camera on their own lives and families to create their first dramas. Characteristics like those of Trey Edward Shults Krishaby Greta Gerwig lady birdcharlotte wells After the sun and even Ari Aster’s Hereditary are excellent examples of the genre, and surely there are countless others.
Writer-director Lucy Kerr Family photo could be added to that list, except there’s a catch: if there’s drama, it exists somewhere below the surface, in a movie that’s filled with anxiety and foreboding without showing much of a plot. In fact, there’s a basic narrative about a family gathering for their annual group photo; according to press releases, this is just before the start of the COVID pandemic, but Kerr is less interested in telling stories than creating moods and sensations. , which he achieves through a seductive combination of images, sounds and human bodies in motion.
The bottom line
A graduate of CalArts’ film and video program, the director has made numerous short films, including crashing wavesa concept documentary about a stuntwoman who performed at festivals in 2021. For her first feature (and at 78 minutes, a relatively short one), Kerr focuses on an extended Texas clan waiting to be seated for a still-eluding photograph. them, not very different from the couples in Luis Buñuel The discreet charm of the bourgeoisiewho never get to sit down for dinner.
In fact, there is a surreal side to Family photo, though the film also feels hyper-real in places, with sound designers Nikolay Antonov and Andrew Siedenburg cranking up the mix at key moments. When the leaves rustle, it is like a tidal wave that suddenly floods the earth. At other times, the sound almost disappears completely, plunging the viewer into an eerie void.
Kerr’s leading lady is Katy (actress-director Deragh Campbell, It used to be darker), a daughter who has returned home with her new boyfriend, Olek (Chris Galust from the indie film Invisible give me freedom), for the annual photo, and seems very anxious from the moment we meet her. Much of the action takes place from her point of view: she learns that a relative is dying of a mysterious lung infection, and then she appears to be the only one searching for his missing mother. Is Katy just hypersensitive or is she seeing something the others don’t?
Set over a single afternoon, the film combines casual scenes of family arguments with instances of mounting angst as disaster looms in the background. In one sequence, Katy’s father (Robert Salas) tells a long story about an iconic photo of her own father that was taken in the Pacific at the end of World War II and then used as propaganda during the war years later. from Viet Nam. Any image can be manipulated, Kerr seems to be warning us, even ones that are supposed to represent unaltered reality.
As Family photo progresses, Katy’s reality begins to dissipate as well. It’s as if she’s heading into her abyss, a sentiment illustrated by a scene in which she gradually disappears into a nearby stream, with cinematographer Lidia Nikonova plunging into the water alongside her. The camerawork is definitely the film’s strongest asset, switching between stunning Steadicam shots, especially in the opening scene, and still shots where we watch the drama at odd angles and from some distance.
The estrangement effect makes it difficult to relate to Family photo in any emotional form, just like the absence of a palpable story. And yet, what emerges from Kerr’s debut is a kind of heady portrait, or rather a series of fragmented snapshots in which Katy and her loved ones keep coming together and coming apart, like collaged photos but never quite forming. a complete image.
Place: Locarno Film Festival (Cineasti of the present)
Production Companies: Insufficient Funds, Conjuring Productions
Cast: Deragh Campbell, Chris Galust, Rachel Alig, Katie Folger, Robert Salas
Director, Screenwriter: Lucy Kerr
Producers: Megan Pickrell, Frederic Winkler
Executive Producers: Lucy Kerr, Brittany Reeber
Director of Photography: Lidia Nikonova
Production Design: Tim Nicholas
Costumes: Dev England
Editing: Karlis Bergs
Sound Design: Nikolay Antonov, Andrew Siedenburg
Sales: Lights On
1 hour 18 minutes