Family Life – La Vie de Famille (1985)

Family Life - La Vie de Famille (1985)

Taglines: Childhood lasts a lifetime…

This is an affecting story about a father’s attempts to mend the breaches in the relationship between himself and his 10-year-old daughter. Emmanuel (Sami Frey) is the father of Elise (Mara Goyet) by his first marriage, and the stepfather of an older daughter by his second marriage. He tries to make the best of both family relationships by taking off to visit his young daughter on the weekends, but that only makes his new family a little jealous – especially his stepdaughter. She herself is confused about her own relationship with him.

After a particularly emotional send-off one weekend, Emmanuel and Elise take a trip from the south of France into Spain, working on a film project. Through a series of round-about conversations, Emmanuel manages to open up a few channels of communication with Elise – channels that expand even wider when he uses the technique of talking into her video camera to express thoughts and feelings that otherwise would have remained hidden.

Family Life (French: La Vie de Famille) is a 1985 French film by Jacques Doillon. Starring by Sami Frey, Mara Goyet, Juliet Berto, Juliette Binoche, Aïna Walle Catherine Gandois, Simon de La Brosse and Henriette Palazzi. Screenplay by Jacques Doillon, cinematography by Michel Carré, film Editing by: Nicole Dedieu and Claude Ronzeau.

Family Life - La Vie de Famille (1985)

Review for Family Life

It is the most difficult moment in any father’s relationship with his daughter – the moment at which he must begin to keep his distance and allow her to start forming relationships with boys of her own age, without fear or jealousy. Jacques Doillon captures this moment superbly, with the feeling of one who has already lived it for himself, in La Vie de famille, one of his most engaging and subtle films.

Doillon had already dealt with the problematic father-daughter relationship in La Fille Prodigue (1981), which shows what can happen when it goes wrong and an emotional imbalance can lead to repressed longings and an incestuous affair. La Vie de Famille has none of the shock value of this earlier film but is no less earnest in its attempt to show the fraught nature of one of the most delicate of human relationships.

Jacques Doillon scripted the film with his frequent collaborator Jean-François Goyet, whose twelve-year-old daughter Mara was selected for the part of the central protagonist, Elise. A picture of childhood innocence with just a hint of emerging maturity about her, Goyet is perfect for the role and she carries it off in a way that is astonishingly confident and nuanced for someone so young. The experience of making the film was not one that she enjoyed, however, and she declined offers to appear in other films subsequently. Since, Mara Goyet has pursued a successful career as a writer and teacher, and has co-authored one film, L’École pour tous (2006).

Family Life - La Vie de Famille (1985)

Sami Frey, an actor whose mercurial persona and talent have been put to good use by many a great auteur filmmaker, plays Elise’s middle-aged father Emmanuel – and in such a way that we can hardly believe he is not her real-life father. To say the lead performances are true-to-life is understating things somewhat…; You’d almost swear that Doillon was filming a documentary, one that sheds great insight into a relationship that few filmmakers have dared to tackle with such directness and honesty. In Doillon’s entire oeuvre there is probably no other film in which the two principal actors have such a natural rapport. Like his director, Frey shows a surprising willingness to enter the hermetic world of the pre-adolescent and make himself at home there.

There are strong, possibly dangerous undercurrents beneath the infantile games that Emmanuel and his daughter indulge in as they try to connect in the course of a weekend outing. Both desperately want a closer relationship, but each fears the other is keeping his or her distance for reasons that are far from apparent. As they find, there is no word in the dictionary that adequately describes their predicament. It is only at the end of the film, when the two record private messages for each other on a camcorder, that they manage to come out into the open and admit what is troubling them.

It is a simple but moving sequence, and the finesse with which it plays out can only reaffirm Jacques Doillon’s standing as one of his generation’s most perceptive commentators on the human condition. La Vie de Famille is a modest film that warms the heart with its tenderness, whilst stinging the same vital organ with its sublime acuity.

Family Life - La Vie de Famille Movie Poster (1985)

Family Life – La Vie de Famille (1985)

Directed by: Jacques Doillon
Starring: Sami Frey, Mara Goyet, Juliet Berto, Juliette Binoche, Aïna Walle, Catherine Gandois, Simon de La Brosse, Henriette Palazzi
Screenplay by: Jacques Doillon
Cinematography by: Michel Carré
Film Editing by: Nicole Dedieu, Claude Ronzeau
Distributed by: Gaumont, MK2
Release Date: February 13, 1985