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FAMILY VIEWING (director/writer/editor/producer: Atom Egoyan; cinematographer: Robert MacDonald; editor: Bruce MacDonald; music: Michael Danna; cast: David Hemblem (Stan), Aidan Tierney (Van), Gabrielle Rose (Sandra), Arsinee Khanjian (Aline), Selma Keklikian (Armen), Jeanne Sabourin (Aline’s mother); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; Cinephile/Zeitgeist; 1987-Canada)
“Not meant for family viewing as the title might indicate.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian-based writer-director Atom Egoyan (“Next of Kin”-1984), an Armenian born in Egypt, creates his second feature on a shoestring budget. It’s a unique black comedy and evocative drama, that is not meant for family viewing as the title might indicate. It covers a wide range of topics from rights of privacy to the problems over caring for the elderly immigrants to alienation among family members. Originally shot on video this early Egoyan feature hones in on a dysfunctional family and their impersonal relationships, where they would rather watch television or video than communicate with each other. It targets how technology has not only helped modern mankind but also hindered it.

Teenager Aidan Tierney finds that his seemingly regular middle-class father (David Hemblen), a video components distributor, has a thing for sado-masochism and phone sex, which is the reason his wife left him. Dad places his senile mother-in-law in a seedy nursing home, and brings home a new bimbo wife (Gabrielle Rose) to satisfy his sexual desires. Tierney feels obligated to connect with Granny and visits her regularly in the home, where by chance he bumps into a young woman (Egoyan’s wife Arsinee Khanjian) who has befriended Granny and works for the phone-sex operation his father and stepmother uses.

When Tierney discovers that his father has been erasing cherished family home movies of his real mother and substituting homemade pornography featuring himself and Gabrielle — the upset son has an oedipal attack and rebels against his father’s authority, in his vacuous self-righteousness forgetting that he’s boffing his stepmother. The zealous Tierney replaces these tapes with blanks and rescues Granny from the depressing nursing home to care for her himself, in hopes that he can remember mom through her. Dad reacts by hiring a private eye to spy on his son.

The talented but still rough around the edges Egoyan gives us a unique look at family relations, probably not the way we might want to see it. Nevertheless, the film has a mesmerizing quality that makes the bizarre seem all the more plausible. This film made a hit with film critics, but barely a ripple in the public arena. Its major fault was that all the characters remained too distant, unable to make a connection with the viewer or with each other.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”