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Cinema Verite (2011)

June 16, 2011

Cinema Verite (2011)

 By John Leavengood

                       MY CALL:    What happens when the perfect couple and their children are monitored hour by hour for twelve weeks in a Jane Goodall-esque social experiment?  We see them at their seemingly perfect best and their worst, and see just how often each side shows its face.  This revealing true story about “An American Family” tests us as we crave more of the very drama that leads us to shovel sympathy at its troubled players.  [B+]

     When we see a Christmas card depicting a family portrait festooned with smiles illuminating the American Dream, we rarely ponder what goes on when they’re not posing.  What happens in that house on a day to day basis when things do not fall into place as they seem to have immaculately done so for their family photos?  Craig Gilbert (James Gandolfini) posited a much darker hypothesis than most.  This very “real” depiction of social Americana was captured in this HBO film…that their smiles are ephemeral and their happiness may be just as fleeting as the flash of the camera that captured the facade.

As Gilbert, Gandolfini tests our trust as he double-plays both confidante and silver-tongued devil in his dealings with the parents, particularly the mother (Diane Lane).  Gandolfini emcees the plot intrigue well, but Lane is the real star of this gripping film.  As the victem in their marriage, she serially outshines Tim Robbins (playing her husband), who does his job and does it well, but simply lacks the scenes and lines to win our favor or sympathy.  He simply plays a character that was not designed to win our support.

            Set in the early 70’s, before reality television had become the over-scripted, sensationalized farce we know today, this true story reveals the process behind the Gilbert’s PBS documentary miniseries “An American Family”.  This was a controversial 10-hour saga that followed the relationship between the parents and children, and readily transformed into an exposé on the problems between the parents.  It may not sound as interesting as The Situation’s latest shenanigans or Snooki getting arrested on the Jersey Shore, but this American family received no paycheck to provide incentive to sharing their dirty laundry or hamming up drama for ratings or promise of another season.

            This film feels real.  Lane and Gandolfini stand at the helm and I found myself rooting for both of them to get what they (their characters) wanted.  Lane steals the show but Gandolfini really shows us what he can do.  See this

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