Next of Kin Review
Peter (Patrick Tierney) is twenty-three and lives with his parents. Concerned by his lack of communicativeness, his parents take him to a therapy session which is recorded on video. Playing the session back, Patrick comes across another family's therapy session, that of Armenian immigrants George and Sonya Deryan (Berge and Sirvart Fazlian) who gave their son Bedros up for adoption, though kept his younger sister, the now-rebellious Azah (Arsinée Khanjian). Peter makes contact with the Deryans, claiming to be Bedros...
Atom Yeghoyan was born in 1960 in Egypt of Armenian parents but was brought up in Canada, where he still lives. He made his first feature at the age of seventeen, Lust of a Eunuch, a film which has very little information available about it online, except that it features a well-known actor, Ed Begley Jr, and that it runs four and a half hours. Seven years later, with four short films in between, he made another feature, Next of Kin. As well as writing and directing, he also edited and can be heard playing classical guitar on the soundtrack.
Lighter in tone than some of his other films, Next of Kin shows considerable assurance, visible from an opening low-level tracking shot which ends up with the camera on the carousel of an airport baggage reclaim. (The IMDB claims that Egoyan appears in this scene, but as most of it is shot from below waist level I couldn't verify that. He certainly turns up in the birthday party scene late on.) Egoyan shows considerable inventiveness despite an obvious tiny budget that necessitated shooting in 16mm. This was the first of Egoyan's films to feature his wife, Arsinée Khanjian.
From the outset, the film displays several of Egoyan's ongoing preoccupations. These include an examination of identity, particularly national identity: not for the last time, Egoyan explores his Armenian heritage. He also tackles how much technology helps human interaction, or conversely aids the lack of it. Some of the therapy scenes early on are not shown directly, but via a video monitor (with an out-of-phase bar across the screen to show for it). Also, what we take at first as a standard voiceover turns to be recorded by Peter into a dictaphone.
However, the film is somewhat problematic. You can pass off the fact that Peter-as-Bedros clearly has no resemblance to his supposed parents and sister, and is significantly taller than all of them, as artistic licence. Egoyan is evidently not making overt judgement on Peter's actions and seeking us to draw our own conclusions. Yet you can't avoid the fact that the solution to Peter's alienation rests in an act of fraud, one which would be devastating if found out – at least as much to Peter's actual parents as to the ones he claims . As his “sister”, Azah clearly has her own journey towards self-realisation, one which involves setting herself against her father's patriarchal values, one which divides women into mothers or whores. (Something Egoyan clearly doesn't endorse: you can't miss this in the scene where George takes Peter to a bar which features a stripper.) Some people find Egoyan's early films cold – I was one, before seeing Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter on their UK cinema releases changed my mind – and the warmth that Khanjian especially gives to this film, is offset by a chilly, rather solipsistic tone. Next of Kin is certainly well worth seeing, especially for Egoyan fans, but it's a film that leaves a somewhat sour aftertaste.
Artificial Eye's Blu-ray and DVD of Next of Kin, simultaneously with Egoyan's next feature Family Viewing as part of a series of reissues of the director's work, marks the film's first commercial release in the UK. It was the Blu-ray edition which was supplied for review, and affiiliate links above refer to that. For links for the DVD edition, go here.
As mentioned above, Next of Kin was shot in 16mm and the Blu-ray is in the clearly correct ratio of 1.33:1. Needless to say, this is a very grainy film and Blu-ray resolution really does display the texture of that grain. Inevitably the results are a little soft and longer shots may be lacking in detail, but given the original materials I'm sure that would always be the case.
The soundtrack is the original mono, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 – the first Blu-ray I've reviewed with anything other than a DTS-HD MA or LPCM track. There are certainly no issues with this track, dialogue, music and sound effects being well balanced. Unfortunately, but to be expected, this English-language film has no subtitles for the hard of hearing. (There are a few sentences in Armenian, but these are intentionally left untranslated.)
There are no extras.