Judge Daryl Loomis was once tricked into a game of hide the egg. He didn't catch on until it was too late.
Everybody loves the holidays. Families getting together to eat, drink, and fight; it's the way it should be. When it's just the family together during these stressful times, people can get mad and argue, but can mostly forgive one another. When other, unrelated people come into the fold, however, things can quickly go from dormant to explosive. In Chilean director Sebastián Campos's debut feature, he throws four outsiders into the mix. Easter doesn't look too sacred this year.
Facts of the Case
It's Easter weekend and Mom and Dad sit waiting for their son Marco (Néstor Cantillana), a freshman at university, to come home for the holiday. Marco arrives, but he didn't come alone. He's brought his two best friends who eye each other ravenously, a neighbor girl who never speaks and Sofia (Patricia López), Marco's new actress girlfriend. She's ravishing, charming, and outspoken. Maybe a little too much so because, after Mom has to leave in an emergency and in a night of Ecstasy and crushed up valiums, the bounds of family decency are thrown out the window.
I never thought I'd see a comedy with so much crying. There's no doubt that, in many cases, they're going for laughs, but the situations the people are in are so distressing and steeped in family strife that the laughter is of the most uncomfortable kind. The Sacred Family rings true in this way. Voyeuristically observing a family breaking down has its moments of comedy, for certain but, knowing that everyone's family could be observed in a similar way, it makes the jet-black humor cringe inducing. This humor is only the tip of the iceberg that The Sacred Family tries to accomplish. Unfortunately, it's nearly the only thing it gets right.
The story is something we've seen plenty of. A seemingly normal family gets together for some reason when, out of nowhere, an external factor gets added into the mix. In this case, that's Sofia. In another case, say François Ozon's Sitcom, it's a rat, but it could be anything. Whatever it may be, that element is the spark that explodes the powder keg. Secrets and true feelings are revealed to a sexy and violent result. The homosexual tension between the buddies, the father's jealousy of his son, and Marco's yearning for his father's approval, this is all apparent from the first moments of the film. Sofia's arrival quickly overshadows all of this, however. Her beauty and oddly charming bluntness shock everyone, even Marco at times, and her personality easily takes over the whole house. She doesn't act like a succubus, deliberately trying to tear apart this family. She's an intelligent, manipulative observer over these people, preferring to point out their flaws rather than actively engaging with them. She's no villain, but her advice and observations don't really help the situation, either.
Sofia's a great character, and the performance by Patricia López is very well done, easily the best part of The Sacred Family. Had the cast around her performed better, the story would have rung more true. The performances are mostly improvised and, while this can add a great sense of realism to a film, the improvisation shows and sounds more stilted than real. Maybe, because the character of Sofia is an actress, her performance comes off more scripted and better for the film. The rest of the cast plays their roles in a hollow way, one that doesn't lend any weight to the mildly taboo subject matter.
As shocking as it tries to be, The Sacred Family never goes over the line. The film wants to revel in the father's lustful jealousy of his son and the homosexual tension between the friends. While they show the acts the characters commit against each other, the scenes never relate directly back to the main core of the story. It's as if they made the movie, then brought the actors back in to spice it up a little as an afterthought. The film is frank in its depictions of the violent and sexual acts, but the scenes are never explicit. This is, mostly, a good thing but, without enough depth to back up the characters' motives, the scenes don't sit right with the rest of the film.
The story would be a lot easier to swallow, though, if the camerawork wasn't so nauseatingly fluid. The camera often seems to be hung from a pendulum, allowed to swing freely among the characters. You only realize there's a person behind the camera when the shot pulls in to an intense zooms between swings. It does settle down eventually into something more watchable, but the shots are so off-putting at first that the film has a hard time recovering.
The Sacred Family, released by First Run Features as part of their Global Lens Collection, is a bare-bones DVD with merely adequate picture and sound. The image is grainy and soft; the non-anamorphic image is not very sharp, though there are no noticeable transfer errors. The mono sound is sometimes hard to hear, and dialogue goes from way too low to very high without warning. Aside from a discussion guide in .pdf format and brief profiles of Sebastiçn Campos and the nation of Chile, there are no extras.
I've made The Sacred Family sound a little worse than it actually is, I suppose. The story is somewhat shallow and the camerawork is completely irritating, it's true. However, the performances are average, with good work from López, and the film is occasionally sexy, even if it's not the taboo-breaker it believes it is.
Guilty, The Sacred Family is released with time served. Now, let's go
hide some eggs!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Discussion guide
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