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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"The Skylab", pleasant family memories

The Skylab (Le Skylab, French original title)

All families are quite similar, and all family gatherings are horri.... just kidding. "The Skylab" uses that simple and recognisable plot to gather an impressive and diverse French Cinema cast, celebrating a family meeting in the summer of 1979, to build a comedy, with several hints of drama, that works also as a personal homage from writer, director and actress Julie Delpy to her family (in particular her mother).

"The Skylab" is built upon a flashback, so these are supposed to be the memories of the adult Albertine, remembering those days when she was 11-year-old and took part of a familiar get-together, celebrating the 67th birthday of her grandmother, matriarch of the clan. Getting picky, from a technical point of view, either the initial/closing scene and the whole premise are quite loose and obviously erroneous (young Albertine wasn't in every scene, so how can she remember them?).

But anyway, that's not really important for the film, who has one of its strongest points in the lack of pretensions and the aim to focus in a nostalgic, mostly kind and warm, take on those familiar days in the French Brittany. Delpy wants to portray her own family memories with affection, care, and a very natural sense of humour. She, thanks to the help of the ensemble cast and her talent for dialogues achieves that goal for almost the entirety of the film.

We all have been part of one of these never-ending get-together reunions, so it's no surprise to see silly/ridiculous situations, even sillier conversations (the one that involves NASA's Skylab space station that was going to fall somewhere that night gives the name of the film), some sex remarks, very different characters dealing with their own stories and trying to catch-up with the other quickly, many communication breakdowns, and the inevitable tensions, all while drinks and food are constantly served, even despite the capricious (and very funny) weather.

As this are Albertine's memories, childhood is a pivotal focus of the film, and Delpy proves she's got a very remarkable talent to recreate with artlessness that age, its revelations and traumas as well it provides several moments of laughs. First love (although she seems quite precocious for her age), death, arts (thanks to her bohemian parents), the transition from childhood to teenager period in particular mark Albertine's evolution throughout the movie. No, she's not a young female version of Woody Allen, although that wouldn't be the first time Delpy has the New Yorker director as a reference.

But I couldn't help thinking "The Skylab" has a couple of "issues" that harm its overall enjoyment as a whole. First, and a common one nowadays, its lack of balance, and directly linked with that, the excessive length: two hours might be necessary to present and expose such a long family and the developing situations, but there are some scenes clearly overlong (and not all of them can be justified as the film is the flashback of one person, therefore completely subjective) while other "matters" are presented just to disappear immediately. And second, when drama appears, in some selected scenes, the tone of the film gets really dark. Political discussions that could end heating-up too much are usual among families. But there's more than that here. These scenes are awkward considering the movie flows as a comedy, and with the aforementioned lack of balance, look also strangely isolated and disconnected from the rest. Maybe Delpy wanted to include too much.

Overall, a lightweight and quite pleasant film, one that you try to be even more indulgent with its flaws thanks to its undeniable charm, that works quite nicely as a nostalgic comedy.

SCORE: 6,25/10

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