My Happy Family ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


The second feature by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross (In Bloom) is credited simply to "Nana & Simon," which perhaps gives a clue to the degree of closeness the film and its directors maintain to their subject, an intimacy verging on claustrophobia. From the opening scene, when Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) gets home from work and cuts herself a slice of cake, only to be upbraided by her nosy mother (Berta Khapava), we know that Manana is planning her escape from this household. It's only a question of how she's going to manage it. As it turns out, she has been apartment-hunting on the sly, and has found herself a new place. All that's left now is to tell the family she's moving out.

Trouble is, Manana isn't just living with her mother and father; she has a husband, ironically but accurately named Soso (Merab Ninidze), a grown daughter (Tsisia Qumsishvili), her live-in fiancé (Giorgi Khurtsilava), and a nearly-grown son (Dimitri Oragvelidze) all living under the same roof. As per Georgian custom, extended family can live together for years, caring for the elders and watching over the youngsters until they are safely married away. But most importantly, the family cannot comprehend Manana's desire to leave them and live on her own.

This one-woman-against-the-patriarchy plot is nothing new. In some respects this is a film we have all seen, springing forth from various cultural contexts. Manana's wish to have "a room of her own" is perfectly understandable, given that she is a professional woman (a teacher) who has been surrounded by a loud, needy family for as long as she can remember.

But on a formal level, Nana & Simon's choice to spatialize Manana's rebellion allows them to literalize her movement away from the fold, a break which is then compromised by her older brother's insistence that some dumb lugs in her building "keep an eye on her." Unbeknownst to Manana, the patriarchy is everywhere. This is made even clearer, in far harsher terms, when some old friends of Manana's divulge a secret about her past, something that she herself did not know.

The impact is devastating, not so much because she learns that Soso had cheated on her, but because that knowledge retroactively cancels her gesture of autonomy. Up to that point, everyone was questioning her decision to move out. "Why leave Soso?" they'd ask, "He doesn't drink too much. He doesn't beat you." Granted, these low-expectation-having Georgians are practically the patriarchy in caricature, but their esteem for Soso nevertheless reaffirms that Manana is leaving because she wants to. Once there is a concrete reason, everything becomes about him, not her.

This is the small but potent crisis that Nana & Simon address, but in no way solve, in the film's final scenes. Soso comes over for dinner at Manana's new place, having offered to help her put up some shelves. The painful small talk is vaguely reminiscent of Fahradi's A Separation, until a not-so-random event disrupts the rhythm of the couple's emotional stocktaking. In the end, Manana is left with a wounded man in her apartment, not sure what to do with him. The situation is eerily familiar.