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Family Resemblances (Un Air de Famille)

By Ray Pride

OCTOBER 5, 1998:  With his feature debut, "When the Cat's Away," French director Cedric Klapisch demonstrated his talent for the spontaneous, and the generous comic moment. With the story of a young French girl's search for a lost cat, it's clear that he knows the joy it is to listen and watch, catch particulars, decipher for oneself the world in glorious ebb and melancholy flow. Made directly afterward, "Family Resemblances (Un Air de Famille)" seems at first glance a whole different animal, an adaptation of a one-set theatrical hit about a bickering family. Yet Klapisch is again attentive to all the particulars that can bring even the most familiar material to life. Taking place over several hours in deepening gloom, Klapisch and his cinematographer Benoit Delhomme work wonders with stylized lighting that purports to be naturalistic, and the decor of the small bistro, La Pere Tranquille, is designed in a manner that prevents claustrophobia, that in fact opens out with windows and mirrors and fish tanks in a way that always fills the widescreen frame. The performances are smashing as well, with Klapisch directing the half-dozen actors who had played the roles onstage for months and finding ways to pace their well-practiced precision of gesture and delivery. Particularly notable is Wladimir Yordanoff, as the one non-family member, the barman of the family establishment who registers each fleeting emotion with elegance and breathtaking ease. The correctness, the exactitude of everyone's work, makes for delicious entertainment. You forget the commonplaces in the writing and see only the reasons why such familial scrapes are common and universal. 107m. CinemaScope. (Ray Pride)

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