If you see enough movies, you quickly become accustomed to the particular rhythms and stylistic flourishes associated with various genres and levels of production. It gets to the point where, whether you're headed into a summer blockbuster, the latest indie hit or a made-for-export foreign flick, you can probably reasonably predict the form that the film will inhabit. This isn't a criticism of what some might term cookie-cutter cinema; it's just an observation. These conventions exist and are used widely because they're time-tested, work well and help filmmakers engage the audience in a story without having to reinvent the wheel with each new project.
All of which is a means of introducing the level to which Patrick Wang's In the Family upends one's expectations of how low-budget indie fare should operate. Most indie films try to obscure their lack of means via quick, clever editing schemes that build excitement belying budgetary constraints. In the Family goes almost the complete opposite route. This is a shockingly, slowly-paced movie.
To be clear, the film isn't slow in the vein of a Tarkovsky or Malick, where transcendence is imparted to the audience via glacially measured beats matched with technical brilliance. Instead, Wang fills every scene with the potential for reality to be reflected in the moment; basically, In the Family breathes more than any film I've seen in a very long time.
Those readers who have seen Steve McQueen's Hunger may recall the long sequence where Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a prison priest (Rory Mullen) discuss the political and philosophical angles of Sands' hunger strike; it's an extended display of acting ability, one that seems to last forever without a cut. In the Family feels like the three-hour version of that scene. It lives in the moment being presented, always. And, as a result, it soars without relying on cheap tricks or diversionary tactics. It's a film that leans hard on the writing and performances; there's really little else to the film, both of which are superbly focused and marvelous to behold. Yes, it's a patiently-moving, long film but, make no mistake, every minute vibrates with a quiet, resonant beauty.
The story itself is simple: a man's (Wang) life partner (Trevor St. John) passes away and, due to an outdated will, his custody of their son (Sebastian Banes) is called into question. What's far more complex is the overall impression one gets while watching the film. To view In the Family is to witness the birth of a new and authentic voice in American cinema. Wang's work, both in front of and behind the camera, is impressively self-assured, especially given that it's his first time as a director and, as the lead, he's front and center for much of the three-hour running time. This is an astoundingly great film, easily one of the ten best I've seen all year.
In the Family begins its run at Cinema 21 on Friday, June 22nd. Director Patrick Wang will be in attendance for the 7pm screening on the 22nd and the 3:30pm and 7pm showings on the 23rd. More info available here.
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