Pablo Trapero, 2004, Argentina/Spain/Germany/Brazil, 103 mins, Subtitles
Cast: Graciana Chironi, Liliana Capurro, Ruth Dobel
An important figure in contemporary Latin American cinema, writer/producer/director Pablo Trapero could be considered as the flip side to the aesthetic and narrative bravado of recent international successes such as Amores Perros, Y tu Mama Tambien, and City of God. Preferring a documentary realist style and an unhurried storytelling pace, Trapero's films are slow-burning but entertaining character studies set in a politically turbulent Argentina . His impressive debut, Crane World tackles issues concerning unemployment and economic problems, while his follow-up El Bonaerense follows a gormless locksmith and part time crook as he joins the police force and discovers a world of corruption, violence, and blatant disregard.
Trapero's latest offering, Familia Rodante , is a beautifully tempered comedy that preys on many people's worst nightmares - the family get-together. When great-grandmother Emilia (Chironi) is asked on her 84 th birthday to be matron of honour at her niece's wedding, she enthusiastically requests that her entire family join her. The problem is that they live in Argentina and the wedding is back in Emilia's hometown on the border of Brazil . Reluctantly the family pull together and decide to drive there in a giant motor home or "familia rodante" (quite literally a "rolling family"). Along for the ride come Emilia's two daughters, their husbands, four grandchildren, one friend and a great granddaughter. From the outset tensions mount as arguments, boredom, sexual attractions, travel sickness, drug abuse, engine trouble, and a case of toothache push the family's relationships to the limit. The trip is not quite what one daughter expects as she persuades her moaning, anally retentive husband to come: "It's a family weekend, end of story."
What could have come across as an acute case of claustrophobia is saved by the multiple characters and their individual stories, and the fact that the family take so much time outside the motor home (either due to breakdowns or for yet another picnic), the film actually feels extremely open and spacious. Cinematographer Guillermo Nieto seamlessly blends the tight close-ups within the vehicle with vast tracking shots of the passing South American landscape. With a gorgeous and lively music score from Hugo Diez, Leon Gieco and Juanjo Soza, this road movie exudes an easy and relaxed epic quality.
While Familia Rodante is a warmly tempered, often hilarious, comedy about being stuck with your entire family, Trapero doesn't water down the painful emotions that come with this. When relationships break down and tempers fly, Trapero respectfully and intelligently clings on to the honesty of these scenes. This is most evident with Emilia, whose aim is for her family to sort out their troubles, stop squabbling and spend some quality time together. During the opening of the film, in some beautifully shot extreme close-ups, Emilia feeds her pets and looks through some old photographs. The nostalgia for the past and worries for the future are written plainly across her face, and Chironi's wonderful performance adds a touch of melancholic poignancy to the film. There is a sense of one last chance or a final wish to the film that sneaks off into the background while the family deal with their own personal problems, but makes its presence felt again when least expected. It's this brilliantly judged and effortless way the film switches from story to story, from the epic to the personal, and from one emotion to another that makes Familia Rodante such a joy. As Emilia says to her family before they all set off, "It's going to be a great journey".