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NBFF Review: Le Skylab

After seeing Supporting Characters at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the next film I saw that Tuesday night was Le Skylab, written and directed by Julie Delpy.  The film is a French comedy/drama that features Delpy, among many other well cast individuals, all playing the members of a large family, gathering for a reunion of sorts, as they honor a grandmother’s birthday at her country home.  The film plays around with the various dynamics seen between all of the different family members and has many moments of humor, emotion, and depth in understanding where everyone is coming from.  It is more aimless than plot driven, but it is an enjoyable film that brings a lot out of its ensemble cast.

The film begins with a woman boarding a train with her family.  After some irritating business that involves a few individuals on board the train not behind kind enough to allow the family to sit together, the woman flashes back to her own memories of a time when her entire, extended family got together for a reunion.  At this point, the film jumps back to 1979.  The woman we began with is now 10-year-old Albertine (Lou Avarez) and she arrives in Brittany, France with her parents, played by Julie Delpy and Eric Elmosnino, for the celebration of her Grandmother’s birthday.

The large family arrives as well, which includes several aunts and uncles, all of whom have their own various quirks and personas about them.  The film is largely set during one day of this eventful weekend, where some truths are revealed, personal rivalries are renewed, and Albertine experiences the painful delight of first love.  She is also convinced that an orbiting space satellite will crash down on their heads, which is what the title refers to.  The film serves as a retro slice of life that communicates the importance of celebrating family.

Watching this film, it would be very easy to be convinced that these people must be friends or spent plenty of time working together, as the script is quite solid and the cast does well to make you believe that they are all one big family.  The best aspect truly is how natural the family dynamics feel, regardless of how wild some of the humor may be, or how intense some of the rivalries become, or how poignant some of the more dramatic moments seem.  This group of people, which consists largely of well-regarded theater actors, all have very good chemistry together, which serves the film well, whether they are have scenes that revolve around everyone having a good time or if they are getting into big arguments with one another.

I also really enjoyed that this film was set in the 70s.  As Julie Delpy used a lot of her own experiences and memories that recall this time period, the setting allowed for a familiar but nuanced way of handling a big group like this interacting with one another.  So rather than having individuals acting in a more conservative manner or participating in activities that are less interesting, were the film to be placed in modern times, we get to witness a period that allows for adults and children to interact on a unique sort of level.  Adults do not do much to heed where their conversations take them, regardless of being in the presence of their kids.  The kids lack the technology of today and we get to watch them play around with each other outside, tell each other stories, and deal with pre-teen emotions.  There is a solid level of authenticity to all of this that better communicates the idea of all of these people really acting like a family and providing enjoyable moments for this film to revel in.

Further adding onto my appreciation of the time period, Le Skylab is a great looking film.  The characters have fitting costumes, clothing, and other various accessories.  The setting is appropriate, with a country home that is busy enough to show off the farm in the background, the style of décor within and around the home, and the nature the activities that these folks can participate in.  A late scene that involves the younger members of the family all going to a party together was also a fun and realized mini-adventure, getting a feel for the nighttime activities that kids can be involved in.

And lastly, the setting also provides a reason to bring up the various social norms and politics of the people involved.  Delpy’s character and her husband are portrayed as being strong supporters of the leftist political party, which becomes an issue for a few of the other family members.  In particular, this upsets the character Roger (Denis Menochet, who was featured in the opening of Inglourious Basterds), an ex-soldier that clearly has issues with living a civilian life.  It is the way that things like this and other differences that reflect the time period continue to make the film an interesting watch and provides for ways to give nearly every character an important scene or two (at least) to work with.

I mentioned early on that the story is essentially aimless, choosing to indulge in watching conversations between characters play out and observe the various family dynamics with undercurrents of humor or drama cutting through.  Albertine is basically our central character, but once the film settles into the reunion aspect, it has a pretty fair balance all around.  As a result, the film is a little long, choosing to better flesh out the majority of the cast, without speeding up some of the proceedings to make for a tighter picture, but it’s not something that bothered me too much.  It is a film that practically knows it is overindulging in showing us all these characters, but also understands that the family is working well enough at seeming like a real one.

Le Skylab was an enjoyable and interesting film.  It makes great use of the ensemble cast and their dynamics with one another.  The period setting adds a refreshing quality to how the interactions, activities, drama, and comedy play out.  And the film gets by on its charming nature (even when some of the darker elements factor in), despite the tendency to let things play out a bit too long in spots.  Entertaining, touching at times, and very well made overall.

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website, and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week for more of my coverage of the festival!

Here’s the trailer for Le Skylab (Unfortunately, I could not find one with English subtitles):

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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