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‘The Family Portrait’ by Lea Vidaković

It looks deceiving on many levels – though in a noble way, giving more than seems to promise, or just differently. Elaborate quasi-naturalistic puppets, the entire set thoroughly detailed as if in an era-sensitive manner, with exquisite light and sound design – border almost surreal qualities, and can turn mystic or wild almost on a spot. As do the characters or the plot itself. Is it really a bourgeois Viennese apartment, with inhabitants being suddenly disturbed by the influx of unbidden guests – or an outright allegory of the delusive safe haven disrupted by forces beyond its shielding power? Is it the realm of empire life span closing the death spiral; what makes the glassware on the table tremble jarringly – awkward steps or tectonic tremor of the historical rupture to come? And the frontal final portrait – a family presentation or a snapshot of (fading) time?.. All of the above, surely. And the very mode of film presentation: belonging equally to the cinema hall and installation space, with puppets on display in full weird beauty and multiscreen projection in pauses and jumps akin to the inner rhythm and feel. -MG

The Family Portrait, Lea Vidaković, Croatia/France/Serbia

This beautifully designed stop-motion work featuring incredibly detailed sets takes place in the home of a wealthy family, with clouds of World War I beckoning on the horizon. A father and his daughter’s quiet afternoon is disrupted when a dozen family members unexpectedly show up. Imagine if Roy Andersson directed Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, and you’d probably get something like The Family Portrait. While Bergman’s film observed, largely through the eyes of the young son, Alexander, the lives and relationships of an upper-class family, Vidaković adds a more absurd, intentionally mystifying, and darkly comic take on this collapsing home, class, and family. We are never quite sure what the hell is going on, but it ain’t good. There are affairs, typically crass children (e.g., spitting on a frog, scaring the other kids, breaking shit), and it seems the father (Andras) is grieving a loved one, likely a wife (he also might have a thing going on with his maid). This multi-layered work not only captures the baffling fuckedupness that is that thing called family but also the coming collapse of these aristocrats and their way of being. The mansion is already crumbling. The soundtrack is dominated by the sounds of things crashing and breaking. We frequently hear and see things being broken – walls leaking, ceilings collapsing. It’s unlikely they will ever all be together again. Maybe that’s okay. – Chris Robinson

A House Is Not A Home

It takes some courage to have a 10+ puppet film in a narrative full of stasis and make it work. Croatian animation artist and director Lea Vidakovic expands admiringly her directing canvas from the triptych of her 2012 animated film ‘Sisters’ to her latest stop-motion ‘Family Portrait’, in competition at Animafest Zagreb 2023. In the 15-minute no-dialogue film, a co-production of Adriatic Animation (Croatia), Vivement Lundi! (France) and Biberche Productions (Serbia), the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire coincides with the collapse of a home. Andras and his daughter Zsofia need to face the ‘intruders’, his brother Zoltan and his very big family suddenly moving to their home -not your ordinary Sunday evening pastime. – Vassilis Kroustallis

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