Saturday 31 October 2020

Movie Review: The Last Days Of Chez Nous (1992)

A familial drama, The Last Days Of Chez Nous intrudes on the affairs of an imperfectly quirky family.

After a trip to Italy and a relationship break-up, a pregnant Vicki (Kerry Fox) returns to the Sydney home of her older sister Beth (Lisa Harrow). The sisters are close, but Beth's marriage to Frenchman J.P. (Bruno Ganz) is in trouble. She cheated on him, and he is now having his revenge by not showing her any affection and openly carrying on with his own affair. Beth and J.P. have a daughter Annie (Miranda Otto), while Beth has a strained relationship with her grumpy father (Bill Hunter).

Although aware she is controlling and driven, Beth nevertheless tries to run a happy household. She helps Vicki with the pregnancy and arranges a road trip to the outback with her dad to try and mend fences. But J.P. is overflowing with desire and lust, and with Beth away Vicki responds to his overtures, further complicating the household dynamics.

Despite all the unmet expectations, betrayals and emotional torment occupying every room of Beth's house, The Last Days Of Chez Nous affectionately hugs human frailty. The Australian duo of writer Helen Garner and director Gillian Armstrong combine to find the warmth, tension, happiness, disillusionment, and yes, love, misdirected as it may be, permeating through this average abode. 

In perfect fly-on-the-wall style, Armstrong parks her static cameras in unobtrusive corners, allowing characters to wander in and out of the frame, and the intriguingly frayed threads connecting the family members are only gradually revealed. Artistry and disorder are comfortable companions in the modest quarters. Beth is a writer, Vicky could be a writer if she ever concentrated enough to do anything, J.P. is a chef and Annie is a budding pianist. 

Games and fights ebb and flow, Garber excelling at creating real people navigating bumpy circumstances of their own creation, transparency and sometimes startling honesty contributing to an airy mood. Beth, J.P. and Vicki experience moments of joy and pain, never far from hurting each other as overarching themes about the roles, behavior and expectations of men and women are teased out. 

Beth is castigated for talking too much by both J.P. and her father. Unperturbed, she persists in trying to re-infiltrate J.P.'s angry heart. Meanwhile Vicki stretches the definition of free spirit dangerously close to abject irresponsibility, but her vivacious love of adventure is an irresistible draw for J.P.. Young Annie is surrounded by the turbulent passion of her parents and funky aunt while being wooed by house tenant Tim. 

Filled with the flaws that define family, The Last Days Of Chez Nous echo with tumultuous normalcy.

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