(on the roof)
Roof and Courtyard
232 Third St. at 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11215
F/G to Carroll St. or R to Union
|10:00PM||Q&A with filmmaker Andris Gauja|
|11:30PM||After Party in the Courtyard|
Family Instinct (Andris Gauja | Latvia | 60 min.)
At first glance, Family Instinct is a documentary about incest. Zanda is a 28-year-old woman, worn out by hard work, trying to survive with her two children in a god-forsaken Latvian village. Her hardships can be traced back to her romantic relationship with her brother Valdis. When Valdis is put in jail, the local community forces her to make a difficult choice: to wait for him to return, or to do what she must to take care of herself and her family.
Zanda’s living arrangements are precarious at best. Her community was probably never particularly stable, but post-Soviet rural Latvia has been entirely abandoned by the government and there are precious few opportunities for work of any sort. The local men have not responded admirably, and their disastrously irresponsible drunken misbehavior frequently borders on the absurd: one man steals a chicken from a back yard and walks door-to-door trying to trade the squirming bird for a bottle of beer; another pledges his devotion to Zanda in a fit of romantic rage and breaks into her house with a corkscrew sticking out of his chest; someone leaves a door open during a party and a neighborhood dog wanders in and devours a kitten.
One is tempted to say that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad, but the truly disconcerting thing about Family Instinct is that it is sad, but it is also still funny. Moments that could be horrifying are repeatedly played for laughs and as a viewer it is impossible not to feel a little disappointed in one’s own bemused reaction to the subjects’ insanely messy lives.
But as we continue to watch, certain scenes begin to jump off the screen, and we become a bit suspicious: Some shots just seem too well-blocked, others too cleverly composed. And how could Gauja possibly have been lucky enough to have captured some of these perfect, hilariously poignant moments of desperately unhinged behavior? And yet Family Instinct still seems very much “real” in so many substantial ways…
If this film were actually a pure documentary—which it isn’t—it would be a non-fiction miracle. If it were entirely scripted—which it isn’t—it would be a powerful drama. How much of Family Instinct is “genuine” and how much is “fabricated” is tantalizingly unclear, but despite our unavoidable questions about the production, Gauja’s film offers a powerful, tragicomic, but highly authentic insight into the reality of the Latvian countryside today.