Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Movie Review: Family Romance LLC

Family Romance, LLC ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Werner Herzog.
Written by: Werner Herzog.
Starring: Ishii Yuichi (Ishii), Mahiro Tanimoto (Mahiro), Miki Fujimaki (Mahiro's Mother).

You have to give Werner Herzog credit. The 78-year-old filmmaker never seems content to rest on his laurels or to repeat himself. He always seems willing to head off in new directions, try new technologies and always seems to find weird things in the real world that you would swear this crazy German had come up with on his own. Does this make his filmography, which oscillates between narrative and documentary filmmaking, wildly uneven? Sure does – but it also makes it rather exciting to see whatever he does next. They don’t all work, but they’re all Herzog.
Family Romance LLC is not one of Herzog’s best films – but it perhaps a film that only Herzog would make. It is about the bizarre Japanese business of people renting families for all occasions – a concept that sounds like something Herzog would invent, but didn’t. You have a wedding, but your father is a drunken mess? You can hire a stand-in to walk you down the aisle for example. Or, as the film mainly focuses on, if your ex-husband and father or your daughter has abandoned you, you can hire an actor to play him for your daughter.
That is how Ishii (Ishii Yuichi, playing a version of himself as he runs one of these businesses) meets Mahiro (Mahiro Tanimoto) – a girl of about 12, who is lonely and confused, in part because he fathers abandoned her mother and her years ago. So Mahiro’s mother (Miki Fujimaki) hires Ishii to pretend to be her ex-husband, and Mahiro’s father. The father and daughter grow close – the mother perhaps starts to see the line blurring between this actor, and someone who she may actually love, and who actually loves her daughter, not an actor playing a role.
Herzog pretty much shot this movie on the fly in Japan. The film looks rough, because it is rough – not shot on the best of cameras, and probably done without permits or permissions – just capturing the madness all around his characters. The actors were given basic scenarios and scenes to play – and then improved the rest. All this results in a film that never quite gels perhaps – but is always of interest.
Watching the film though, you wonder if Herzog may have been better served by making a documentary, rather than this strange hybrid of a movie. You miss Herzog’s strange voiceovers in scenes that need it – and you want to probe Ishii more than the movie does. We see him in multiple different “roles” – most of them one-offs. As a businessman, he seems cold – this is about the money after all for him, and he wants to be treated as a professional. But the very nature of his business requires him to do things that no normal businessperson would have to do. Does he have any real thoughts or feelings about this?
At the end of the movie, I still really have no idea. Herzog’s film shoots out in different directions, and never quite settles down into anything. It feels, oddly, like the film of a young filmmaker – doing things guerilla style, on the fly, to see what happens next – not a 78-year-old filmmaker, with more than 70 films in his rearview mirror. That itself is a minor miracle. I just wish the film itself was better.

No comments:

Post a Comment