Family Viewing Review

Van (Aidan Tierney) lives with his father Stan (David Hemblen). Van's mother has long departed, and Stan now has a girlfriend, Sandra (Gabrielle Rose). Van's grandmother Armen (Sandra Keklikian) lives neglected in a home, and only Van visits her. There, he strikes up a friendship with Aline (Arsinée Khanjian), whose mother is in the next bed. Van wants to get Armen out of the home, and together with Aline comes up with a plan...

Three years after Next of Kin, Atom Egoyan followed it with Family Viewing, also shot on 16mm. As the titles indicate, family relationships play a large part in this film, and once again there's a sense that your family can be just as much the one you make for yourself as the one you are born into. And also technology can be a means to alienate as well as to bring together.

Stan is fond of video, always taping scenes from his family life. This may be a way of capturing and preserving the past, but it is also a way of mastering it, as it can be taped over – specifically with footage of Stan and Sandra making love, shot with a camera set up at the foot of the bed. Van's real mother left ages ago, and we never see her except in the video footage, but her absence is clearly a major one, and possibly a spur to his closeness with her grandmother (an entirely wordless performance from Selma Keklikian) who is otherwise condemned to an all but vegetative existence in her old people's home, spending her days in bed watching television. And this film is certainly no advertisement for Canadian daytime TV...

Some of the camerawork in Next of Kin was impressive, if possibly a little showy. Egoyan and his two DPs, Robert MacDonald and Peter Mettler (credited oddly as “director of photography” and “cinematographer” respectively) are more restrained in their camera movement but are precise and to the point, as before making much play on the textures of film and video. (And on a technical point, there are no out-of-phase bars on the TV screen this time.) Like the earlier film, it has a base in reality in settings and performances, with the subject matter taking it into stranger territory – there's not the overt stylisation from the outset of Hal Hartley, three of whose 1990s films I've recently reviewed here. Once again, Arsinée Khanjian (married to Egoyan) plays a significant acting role. This was Egoyan's first film scored by Mychael Danna, with whom he collaborates to this day. Danna's score, with much use of percussion, is a major asset. Family Viewing is a distinct step forward in maturity for a filmmaker who was still only twenty-seven when this was released.

The Blu-ray

Family Viewing

was the first Egoyan film to have commercial distribution in the UK, back in 1988. This, however, marks its debut for home viewing, if not family-friendly: the earlier 18 certificate is now downrated to a 15. Artificial Eye are releasing it on Blu-ray (the edition reviewed here) and DVD, and affiliate links refer to the former. For links to the latter go here.

Shot in 16mm, Family Viewing is transferred to Blu-ray in an undoubtedly correct ratio of 1.33:1. Given the source materials, you would expect grain and you certainly get it, plus a softness and lack of detail in longer shots. All of these are limitations of the film's making, not of this Blu-ray, which seems (I never saw the film in the cinema) pretty much as it should be. That grain is natural and filmlike. The rather pastel-shaded colour scheme looks accurate to me.

As with Next of Kin we get a mono soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. It's not one to show off your system with, but it sounds fine to me, with dialogue, sound effects and Danna's score well balanced. Unfortunately there are no English hard-of-hearing subtitles available, nor are there any extras.

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