LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Photographs etch the best occasions as visual memories – gatherings, events, or just crazy moments of laughter and joy. For what it’s worth, pictures like these, especially family photographs, are proof of familial bonds and relationships meant to be passed down the generations. Director Lucy Kerr’s Family Portrait derives its plot from this very practice and then clashes it with moments of intimately psychological and mysteriously anxious introspection. The result is quite intriguing and unsettling.
Gathered at a family home near a calm, rural lake in Texas, a family’s sitting down for a meal and a yearly family photograph to be taken shortly. Katy (Deragh Campbell) is visiting with her boyfriend and the official photographer, Olek (Chris Galust). The home is filled with at least a dozen people indulging in conversations and exchanging information. There’s Katy’s father, Charles (Robert Salas), mother, Barbara (Silvana Jakich), as well as her sisters, cousins, and various in-laws. Katy’s insistence on taking a family photograph is grating to a number of the attendees.
“No one except Katy worries about her mother’s absence…”
It may sound like Family Portrait is a casual mix of instances and encounters between family members meeting after a long while. However, co-writers Kerr, Karlis Bergs, and Rob Rice’s idea of a family drama is much more enigmatic in narrative structure and visual choreography. The movie establishes its atmospheric tone in ambiguous silence. The opening sequence is engulfed under rumbling and muddling voices that are hard to comprehend. Later, when the characters unravel, Nikolay Antonov and Andrew Siedenburg’s sound work sustains tension in every conversation.
Lidia Nikonova’s camera work artistically shoots this multi-layered picture of overlapping discussions. As the family gathers and starts to catch up, the focus is on the characters’ expressions. Whether disinterested or confused, it highlights their prolonged detachment from each other. In another sequence, the filmmaker captures Katy’s father’s speech over a heavily edited photograph of his grandfather, who was made to look like a Vietnam War soldier in a picture from his enlistment during World War II. It reflects upon the unreliability of memories confided and contained in the photographs.
"…stresses enigma and ambiguity..."