Imagine living in a patriarchal society where it is neither odd nor peculiar for generations of blood families to reside together in one space. Where the entire family including the first, second, third and even the fourth generations still live under a single roof, and it is pretty reasonable. A society where women, unlike men, are constantly pestered to prove themselves, keep their husbands and the entire family happy amid physical abuse that’s normal.
Family life isn’t all fun, and in a place where women are expected to be paupers to their families, happiness can be hard to come by, as depicted by “My Happy Family.” If you are getting married soon, please spare some two hours and watch it!
When the head of the household quits
We’re in an archetypical Georgian society where a woman needs to keep her mouth shut and her eyes dry, keep sacrificing for the sake of her family and accept it as a norm. On a calm evening of her 52nd birthday at her three-bedroom family home in Tbilisi, Manana unpredictably announces to her family that she was quitting her 30-year-old matrimony. Determined to be free, live happily and away from a cramped house, she packs and leaves.
Her 55-year-old husband Soso, her mom Lamara (72), father Otar (80), her two kids – daughter Nino (24) and son Lasha (20), Nino’s clandestine husband Vakho (27), are all left aghast, but don’t take her seriously. What follows later gives the title “My Happy Family” a somewhat ironical meaning amid the prickly harmony that merger mundanely with profundity.
Caged bird set free
It doesn’t long to realize the mockery of the title “My Happy Family” given the sad, gloomy atmosphere inside the cramped and multigenerational flat. Manana is a pinball, bouncing off one demanding relative to the next, only finding love and respite in school. Her husband throws a birthday bash and invites a couple of his friends because her tradition requires that any occasion is worth partying, but she’s disinterested.
It is a story of a woman taking back her life, tired of being “caged” and would prefer to have a cake in peace than a party without love. The whole family is only alarmed when she leaves. But the big question as the film plays is whether she’s better off on her own, away from the dull, problematic family.
The plight of women and their freedom
“Yes,” she’s better off alone. Or, “Yes, but No” going by the situation back at home – her husband and two kids are concerned. Rezo and Co. conspire to interfere with her “vacation” and steal away her newly found happiness and freedom. “My Happy Family’s” final stages herald an explicitly existential, emotional scene that highlights the plight of women, her decision to pursue love, peace and freedom and the society’s fight against women’s emancipation.
Sadness is grounded on Manana’s experience, what the directing duo of Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross perfectly capture. The movie’s directors seemingly lean on a melancholic side and get sadder as it grows, though it isn’t punctured with ennui. Incredibly, it is the same Romanian cinematographer Tudor Vladimir Panduru who did “Graduation” that makes “My Happy Family” this “lovely.”
Many of 2017’s movies featured female protagonists and much like “My Happy Family,” most of them left a decent performance. You’ll not feel tired watching this 2-hour piece, safe for the anti-climactic finale that falls short.