wed 12/08/2020

Family Romance, LLC review - the chameleon blues | reviews, news & interviews

Family Romance, LLC review - the chameleon blues

Family Romance, LLC review - the chameleon blues

A faux-documentary about fakes mimics Herzog's virtues

Forged family: Mahiro Tanimoto and Yuichi Ishii(c) Lena Herzog

Werner Herzog’s appearance in The Mandalorian paid for this deadpan, documentary-like slice of extreme Japanese life, suggesting how the director’s amusingly doomy Teutonic persona now dominates his own cinema.

Family Romance is a real company which takes Japan’s cultural ease with simulacra – from reconstructed historic houses to plastic models of food – to its emotional limit, faking family members and friends to order. Boss Yuichi Ishii plays a version of himself, employed to be the long absent dad of 12-year-old Mahiro (pictured below left with Ishii). In between replacing a drunken father of the bride and comforting a disappointed lottery winner, Ishii supplies imagined intimacy for the child with real kindness. “Sometimes I wonder if my own family might have been hired by someone,” he wearily confides.

Mahiro Tanimoto and Yuichi Ishii in Family Romance, LLCHerzog collects Japanese exotica, from cherry blossoms to samurai displays, and the petted denizens of a hedgehog cafe. Ishii enters a coffin for respite as much as faux-corpse duty, and inspects a robot hotel, with its as yet clunky automation of such fakery. He peers longingly at the mechanically flitting tail of a fish in its tank as if it’s an inauthentic avatar, holding clues to his soul. Against this, near-anamorphic close-ups of Ishii and Mahiro’s faces, and the girl’s tense breath and private thoughts as Ishii, wearing something like a wedding suit, humbly declares, “I’ll be your father today”, feel tenderly true.

Like his New German Cinema peer Wim Wenders, there is a clear second half to Herzog’s career where eccentrically questing documentaries have come more easily than patchy fiction. In Wenders’ case, Wings of Desire’s crowning global acceptance led to hubris even by its own closing scenes, and subsequent epics of tin-eared pretension. There has been good Herzog fiction since his savage star Klaus Kinski severed their bond in 1987, such as the Jewish strongman facing Nazism in Invincible (2001). But the most high-profile was Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn (2006), a German Vietnam drama drawn from Herzog’s already sufficient doc. Perhaps his classic conjurations of conquistadors, Amazon opera houses, Bavarian prophets and Brazilian slave traders were failed documentaries, technologically thwarted, pre-film vérité.

Werner Herzog, director of Family Romance, LLCAt any rate, minus Kinski’s boiling hot blood, the equivalent story of Middle East adventurer Gertrude Bell lay inert on the screen in Queen of the Desert (2015), and a real-life murder became mazily abstract in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009). Though less remarked than the great Wenders’ fall (also arrested by excellent documentaries), Herzog the feature director has also steeply declined, unable to create characters to equal the foolish bear-lover of Grizzly Man, or imagery to match the 3D Stone Age art of Cave of Forgotten Dreams. His own talent for invention has stuttered.

Family Romance, LLC instead eerily mimics the modern documentary’s mix of observation, concocted narrative and dully hyper-real HD video. It’s a lifelike yet flatly unconvincing simulacrum of a Herzog documentary. As Mr. Ishii’s solicitous smile starts to crack, his performance at least gains profundity akin to great acting, the lone nugget panned on Herzog’s latest human treasure hunt.

It’s a lifelike yet flatly unconvincing simulacrum of a Herzog documentary

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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