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Film review: Un Air de Famille (Family Resemblances)

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 1998 11:10 a.m. MDT

It's hard to remember a recent screen family as realistic as the one shown in "Un Air de Famille (Family Resemblances)," and perhaps that's why the film is almost uncomfortably funny.

Audiences who are bored by excessive dialogue probably hate this French comedy/drama, which plays out somewhere along the lines of "My Dinner With a Whole Family of Andres." And to be honest, there are times when director Cedric Klapisch's storytelling approach is so low-key the film almost seems catatonic.

But this series of dialogues is so truthful and is so on-target with its barbs that it's much harder to resist than it sounds. There's also a handful of ingratiating performances, led by screenwriters/actors Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, who reprise their stage roles in this filmed adaptation of the hit play, which they not-so-coincidentally wrote.

What action there is revolves around the weekly Menard family dinner get-together. This time there's plenty to talk about, beginning with the marital status of underachieving bar owner Henri (Bacri), whose wife has just left him.

Then there's 30-year-old Betty (Jaoui), the smart-mouthed younger sister who is secretly carrying on a relationship with Henri's bartender, Denis (Jean-Pierre Darroussin). She's also created a workplace dilemma for her "perfect" brother, Philippe (Wladimir Yordanoff), who helped get her a job at the company he works for.

And while all three siblings look for sympathy from their somewhat disapproving mother (Claire Maurier), Philippe's wife, Yolande (Catherine Frot), proceeds to get drunk — a source of amusement for the others but a real sore spot for him.

Smartly, Klapisch ("When the Cat's Away") handles most scenes in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion. And the talented cast certainly helps in that endeavor.

But that's not to say that the others aren't as good. In fact, the cast members have a very natural chemistry with each other — probably since they all played their roles on stage at one time.

"Un Air de Famille" is not rated but would probably receive an R for profanity, use of some vulgar slang and some violent slapping.

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