Vague Visages’ Family review contains minor spoilers. Don Palathara’s 2023 movie stars Vinay Forrt, Jitin Puthanchery and Divya Prabha. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Don Palathara’s sixth feature film, Family, is a sobering indictment of a Kerala community’s malfeasance and duplicity masked behind a calm facade of camaraderie. By dissecting the intrusive and complex social dynamics of the rural population, Palathara demonstrates how the populace’s sneaky self-preservation strategies are bound up with a sense of vulnerability and inadequacy. He ponderously peels the veneer off the seemingly perfect and content lives of various members of a Christian family to reveal the disintegration underneath. Family is a caustic expose that’s both provocative and thought-provoking.
The protagonist Sony (Vinay Forrt) is a good-hearted man who practices his religion and abides by the rules of the church, which serves as the community’s sense of right and wrong. He willfully helps his fellow villagers when they are in trouble or need assistance. Sony offers to help struggling students with their academics without charging a high fee. When he learns that his cousin, Subin, has verbally abused a girl at school, he explains the consequences rather than reprimanding him. Sony’s presence within the fabric of the village is of paramount importance. But things are not as they appear, as the protagonist’s philanthropic exterior conceals something sinister.
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A leopard has been claiming the lives of pet animals in the village and poses a threat to humans. As Family begins, Sony tells Subin that the predator in question does not pounce unless it is attacked first. The predacious nature of the leopard becomes a symbolic representation of Sony’s evil nature, which the villagers are not aware of. Similarly, in another scene, a cow falls into a pit to catch the leopard, and the villagers gather to save the poor creature, implying that people are falling into the trap of Sony’s chivalrous demeanor. But the victims of his exploits do not inform anyone, and his wrongdoings go unnoticed and unpunished. Even when one of Sony’s relatives catches him red-handed and discusses the matter with an elder member of the family, no action is taken against him. Rather, a middle-aged nun chastises the eyewitness for spreading rumors. Simultaneously, Sony is sent to a retreat center for purification before being offered a job at a Catholic high school. Throughout Family, Palathara emphasizes how the church plays an authoritarian role in the lives of the villagers. Religion forms an integral part of people’s lives; Fathers and Sisters of the Church play key roles in matters of the community. It becomes more important for them to protect the honor and spotless reputation of Sony’s family than to address and resolve a heinous act. Any information that could jeopardize the family’s reputation is covered up. For them, bitter familial truths and disputes should never be divulged to the outside world. The result is a movie that is simultaneously analytical and visceral.
Along with co-screenwriter Sherin Catherine, Palathara crafted a film that progresses with a languid tempo, absorbed in the routines of village life and the emotional currents that ripple beneath its surface and occasionally spill out into the open. The director maintains a detached objectivity, allowing the details of the story to speak for themselves and allowing viewers to glimpse the complex and volatile inner lives of his characters. The constricted, localized and self-contained society and settings in Family reflect the mundane and routine lives of the people, in which religious deference provides solace. Although the film depicts a tight-knit religious group that is governed by the narrow-mindedness of its leader, ultimately its aims go beyond displaying the perils of religious dogma. Family never overtly criticizes their belief system itself, though viewers know that an ideology cannot succeed without the support of those who have lost their common sense. Instead, Palathara portrays the individuals as victims of their own faith.
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At the same time, Family explores how deeply ingrained male toxicity is in the daily life of the village and how it can transform people into malicious entities. In one scene, a villager speaks to a woman whose daughter has returned home after being cheated by her boyfriend, and says that he knows a doctor who can who can fix the girl. In another conversation between Sony and a pregnant woman, Rani (Divya Prabha), it’s revealed that her uncle has the opinion that if a girl goes to study in the city of Bengaluru, she will turn into a slut. Through these scenes, Palathara raises his concerns about how the restrictive and regressive functioning of a male-centric society affects the everyday life of the village. Truth be told, these problems are for sure not exclusive to the rural society of Kerala, and the overt criticism of these pernicious mindsets is so unmistakable and effective that people living in other parts of India can easily relate.
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Jaleel Badusha’s cinematography balances the pictorial beauty of the village in an equal way, emphasizing Family’s simple and realist setting, which brings out the story’s restrained and enunciated feel. The static shots blend in with the activities of the characters and do not appear to be staged. Family, which was edited by Palathara himself, has a deliberate pace and rhythm that can occasionally make viewers restless because nothing dramatic happens. However, this approach helps the film accumulate its emotional intensity by focusing on small gestures and quotidian moments with an economy of detail. It allows the narrative’s slow-burn simplicity to creep in gradually. The sound design by Renganaath Ravee makes stirring use of silences to underline the dramatic moments and enhance the layered narrative structure of the film. Palathara’s nuanced direction is powered by the unfailingly convincing performance from Forrt as Sony, a man whose genteelness is a protective camouflage for his dishonest self. And Prabha as Rani lets her emotions brilliantly shimmer just under the surface, leaving the viewer to wonder if she actually lives the life of her character. The rest of the cast brings an aura of verisimilitude to Family’s characters by delivering a collective lived-in performance that captures the arc of a vacuous existence.
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Family depicts a world that seems to have been organized to undermine solidarity and stigmatize decency. It is a rigid film, made sternly and without sentimentality, and one can feel the palpable trauma of an unflinching cycle of abuse. Palathara once again proves that his filmmaking voice is clearly one to be reckoned with.
Dipankar Sarkar (@Dipankar_Tezpur) is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, Drama, Featured
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