Every family has its secrets. We tell ourselves that nothing is more important than family and, therefore, being honest with them is the most important thing in the world. But it is that same level of importance we place upon them that makes honestly such a dread filled prospect. It is because we care about them so much that we fear how our honesty would harm them. You could then argue that this is the reason to lead a virtuous life, one free of any action that might cause shame. But it’s a charmed life you’ve lead if you haven’t had to make any regretful decisions.
That’s what Family Reunion is all about. It’s about protecting your loved ones from the terrible truths that will rip your family to pieces. The script by David Kitchen is smart and densely layered. It opens with a peaceful moment of family unity. Coming back from a funeral the two leads – a brother and a sister – help their drunk dad to his house. The naturalistic acting feels authentic, their conversations, the way they talk over one another, the way the actors pepper the dialogue with their own little idiosyncrasies, it all makes the family seem genuine. They are actual human beings having an actual conversation, not actors slaving to staging and scripting.
As they exchange old stories and reveal a shared history – as they embrace each other as their father beams with pride – the story is intercut with moments that do not fit. Little moments of shouting and despair that do not fit at this family table. They start as brief shots, their obtuse focusing and ambiguous framing obscure the action, making it impossible to tell what’s going on. As the film progresses with every new shot another piece of the puzzle is formed. They fight the scenes of family harmony for dominance; they break through the cracks in the narrative; their existence will not be denied; the truth, the horrible truth, will out; its existence will be acknowledged. Finally the secrets successfully wrestle the narrative away from the characters, leaving the audience with an awkward silence and an abrupt ending.
The ending comes as quite a shock. It leaves so many things unsaid, so many strands unresolved. You want more from the characters. You want to see where they will go next, how they will cope and survive as a family. But leaving you with these questions is how the director will ensure the film stays with you a long time after the end credits roll. Those questions will haunt you for months.
The very sudden ending comes as a particular surprise as during the course of the film you may very well forget that you are watching a short feature. The cinematography goes a long way to making you feel like this has been shot on a far bigger budget. The use of light, the way it reacts to rain and reflects off windows is very impressive. It gives the film a gritty urban feel with hints of a classy neo noir, almost like an Andrew Dominik film or the early days of Wong Kar Wai.
Family Reunion is a film that keeps its cards close to its chest while slowly showing them to you one by one. Its only when you have the whole picture, though, that the story can truly begin to make sense. It’s a dark, bold and confident piece of storytelling that asks you a lot of questions, but has the guts to not give you all the answers.