In one of the odder but still quite satisfying films you’re likely to see this year, Family Life comes courtesy of high-profile Chilean directors Cristián Jiménez and Alicia Scherson, who combine forces and visions to tell the story of a house-sitter who reinvents himself in hopes that a woman will fall for him, knowing full well the truth will be revealed and in all likelihood his entire fictional life will come crashing down around him. Written by novelist Alejandro Zambra, the movie doesn’t sound nearly as creepy or troubling as you might think. Instead, the 40-ish Martin (Jorge Becker) seems like a much better person in his made-up identity than the drifting slacker cousin of Bruno (Cristián Carvajal), who runs into him just before he and his family leave for an extended vacation and offers him the housesitting gig, much to the concern of his wife Consuelo (Blanca Lewin).
Shortly after moving into the spacious dwelling, Martin somehow allows the family cat to escape and puts up signs all around the neighborhood. During this process, he crosses paths with Pachi (Gabriela Arancibia), a single mother with a young son whose dog has also gone missing. During the course of the movie, we see two sides of Martin existing simultaneously but quite separately. He is flat-out the worst houseguest ever, making a mess almost immediately and otherwise defiling the family’s prized possessions (mostly in ways they’ll never notice, but it’s still gross sometimes). But he’s also playing the part of a recent divorcee, professor, and father, who is still reeling from the breakup.
Although hesitant at first, Pachi is charmed by this quiet, handsome man, and the two start a romantic tryst that goes one for several months and gets quite explicit at times. Much as Martin does, it’s easy for the audience to get lost in the sweetness of the relationship and forget that at least half of it is based on a total lie. Commitments are made, all the while Martin is still actively hiding evidence of whose house he’s really living in—even going so far as to shoo away the cleaning woman, who visits every few weeks.
Without giving away the ending and how Martin does or does not resolve his dilemma, Family Life is a fascinating and curious work that magnifies the way all of us misrepresent ourselves a little when we meet someone new and are interested in them. There’s a slow-burn tension to the entire piece that isn’t so much about whether Martin is a danger or not; it’s more about waiting to see how this couple that we’ve grown attached to is going to survive the inevitable revelation. What ends up happening is certainly not what I expected, and that’s all you’re getting out of me. The performances are consistently good, with the two main characters each holding back just a little for much of the film, until it’s quite clear that they have fallen in love and then they pour their hearts out in ways that are both lovely and tragic. Certainly seek this out if you’re looking for a change of pace from the usual relationship story.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.