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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  Fair
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Wisconsin Film Festival 2013: Everybody in Our Family is a funny but uncomfortable tale of interpersonal conflict in Romania
Young Sofia Nicolaescu's performance is unbelievably charming and natural.
Credit:Wisconsin Film Festival

As the meaty, sleeping figure of Marius Vizereanu (Serban Pavlu) is forced awake by his phone, the image of a hibernating bear comes to mind. Marius' tiny studio certainly has the air of a den: It's dark, strewn with beer cans and hundreds of outdated CDs. There's a bed that has likely never been made. His obligations to his ex-wife and 5-year-old daughter, Sofia, do eventually get him out of bed. But once he's outside his comfort zone, he fails to adapt. The audience observing him watches with dread. Thankfully, Everybody in Our Family is not a real-life situation. The Wisconsin Film Festival screened this Romanian movie at Sundance on Wednesday.

After visiting his colorful but loving parents, Marius borrows their car for a holiday near the Black Sea with Sofia (Sofia Nicolaescu, in one of the most charming and natural performances by a child I can recall). That's where the uplifting part of the story ends. After a scuffle with his former wife's live-in boyfriend, the normally affable Marius veers further and further from the vacation.

Shot in a naturalistic style that references the cinéma vérité tradition, the film's domestic violence is just one of its harrowing aspects. Just looking at Marius, who's an oafish hipster of sorts, isn't exactly pleasant. The film's focus on conflict is also painful, with all but 15 of its 105 minutes devoted to a domestic argument in a small apartment. Neither Marius nor his ex fare well in the exchange, and both ignore Sofia's well-being for selfish reasons.

Along the way, Romanian culture struggles to come to terms with post-Cold War realities ranging from gender equality to modern-day litigiousness. Though it is sweet, thoughtful and funny at times, Everybody in Our Family is, above all else, uncomfortable.

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