Directed by one of Argentina’s most interesting and successful young new directors, Familia Rodante (“Rolling Family”) is the third feature film by Pablo Trapero, following Mundo Grúa (1999) and the internationally distributed El Bonaerense (2002). Not making things any easier for himself as a filmmaker, Trapero packed a dozen people into an ancient travelling camper van (including his 83 year-old grandmother) and took off to document the relationships between a close fictional family along the roadways and countryside of Argentina.
It’s Trapero’s own grandmother, Graciana Chironi, who plays Emilia, seen at the start of the film celebrating her 84th birthday with her family and her grandchildren in Buenos Aires. During the celebrations, Emilia receives a phone call asking her to be the matron of honour at her niece’s wedding back in her hometown. In fact, the whole family are invited to the wedding - and it’s a big family. Granddaughters and great-granddaughters turn up unexpectedly, friends are also invited along and a dozen or so people end up together in an old camper van and head off on the road to Misiones, a town 1,000 kilometres from where they live.
The journey, as you might expect from this recipe (take one big temperamental Latin family, add long journey, stir contents well), is not without incident, and it is all captured with perfect naturalism by Argentinean director Pablo Trapero’s roving, probing camera, which gets up close and personal (sometimes a little too personal) with the family in their cramped, enclosed environment. At times the film has an almost documentary-like feel, such is the naturalistic, yet composed framings of the camera and the note-perfect performances of each and every one of the cast. An excellent music score of Latin folk rhythms, principally from Juan José Soza, adds to the local colour and temperaments displayed. The lyrics of the film’s theme song are also related to the themes of the family and travelling (unfortunately not translated in the subtitles) further adding to the whole feel and character of the film.
The incidents that occur along the way are fairly predictable – the typical inter-family and in-law tensions and the not unexpected break-downs along the highway - so what exactly does the film achieve? Apart from the simple pleasure of watching a simple story well-told, Trapero manages - to use another cliché – to make you feel like one of the family. Without getting too deep, it shows what being part of a family is all about. Not exactly in the manner of Yasujiro Ozu, certainly, but in the same way that Ozu’s work is accurate and universal in its themes regardless of the culture or environment in which it is set, so too Trapero captures the familiar familial dynamic stylistically in his own way, while remaining thoroughly and necessarily Argentinean.
Familia Rodante is released on DVD in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, non-anamorphic, in PAL format and is Region 2 encoded.
The DVD transfer is disappointingly presented non-anamorphically at 1.66:1, which is something I thought we had seen the last of in Artificial Eye releases, but they seem to be creeping back in. That, however, is all that is wrong with the image here. It’s grainy, but that is undoubtedly down to the film stock used. The colours however are consequently beautifully saturated, capturing perfectly the warmth and tone of the environment. The print is clear and the detail is well-defined, with no artefacts or edge-enhancement.
The soundtrack is presented in straightforward Dolby Digital 2.0, but with Pro-Logic Surround, it spreads decently across the front channels, with warmth and roundness of tone. Dialogue is perfectly clear and the music score kicks in with verve.
English subtitles are provided in a clear, white font and are optional.
There are not a great deal of extra features, but what is here is more than adequate. The principal extra feature is The Making Of Familia Rodante (20:47), which concisely sets up Trapero’s background in filmmaking, before showing us the difficulties involved in shooting a film on the road in a camper van. The Trailer (2:43) sets the tone of the film well, with minimal dialogue and without telling the whole story. A text Biography gives us little detail other than about the films Pablo Trapero has made.
Familia Rodante is a road-movie with a difference – the conventions are all upheld with an incident packed journey and an appropriate soundtrack that captures the rhythms of the journey and the nature of the environment, but the film doesn’t wrap it all up conventionally with a neat little lesson-learnt in the sense of it being a metaphorical as well as a literal journey. There is no sense that the family are any more or less close than they were at the start of the film, but along the way and through the way that they face up to each of the ordeals they go through, we get to understand the bonds that hold them and all families together. With a particularly fine sense of direction, mood and humour, completely in touch with the rhythms of the Argentinean people and country, Trapero makes this both an amusing and a thoughtful little trip.