In Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the first line of Chapter one, informs the readers, ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its way’. The wisdom rings true with the thematic structure of some of the films made around the world. As the plot points of these films unravel we discover that younger members of the family are parented by the negligent, the unmotivated, the violent, and the alcoholic, or unparented by deadbeat or mentally ill parents. And what they need to sort out are primarily the bad habits of mind and conduct that they fear inheriting from their parents. Thus, while the family crises typically involve economic hardship, the narration remains acutely focused on family dynamics, excluding any consideration of how the economic landscape in which the family is situated may have caused or heightened the hardship. All trouble appears to arise from the murk of family dysfunction. Because these memoirs close their boundaries around isolated families, the judgment seems clear: these families have no one to blame for their problems but themselves. No matter what level of dysfunction the family display but when they’re all cooped up together, there is a comfort to be found in the fact that there is always another clan that is more of a mess than theirs, and such presumption seems like the only hope for happiness left for the family members. Here is a listicle of 10 such contemporary films from the treasure of world cinema that has dealt with the theme of a dysfunctional family.

1. Archipelago (2010)

Dysfunctional Family Films List - Archipelago

Joanna Hogg is one of the most uncompromising British film directors, whose relentless and unflinching observation towards familial discord has been a unique characteristic approach in her body of work. In Archipelago she meticulously scrutinizes a well-to-do British family who embarks on an off-season vacation to the Scilly Isles and in the progression domestic abrasion results that unravels some bitter truth, which turns the holiday into displeasure, endeavoured story of a family at odds with the social structures around them.

The fragile relationship dynamics are the most intimate and theatrical in his oeuvre. It is a keen examination and acutely upright probe into family relationships and all the responsibilities it brings with them. With an eye on the quotidian activities of domestic detail, there are scenes in the film that provides the viewer with immersive attention.


The restaurant scene in the film creates the discomfort of a group of people with a lot of precision that gives displays the uncompromising attitude of the filmmaker. Hogg and her Cinematographer Ed Rutherford have covered the emotions of the characters of the film by using unusual camera angles often from behind or through doorways. In the process, the viewers are presented with a unique state of mind of the characters in moments of solitude and reflection, and temperament. Such conventions provide the film with an outstanding command in the form of storytelling that uses subtleties to uncover the problematic bonding between individuals who are unable to control the tides of unpleasant situations.

Watch Archipelago on VUDU

2. A Separation (2011)

Dysfunctional Family Films List -A Separation

In BBC Culture’s list of the 100 greatest foreign-language films, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation is ranked as 21 and that made it into the top 25. Since the film’s world premiere at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival, becoming the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear and the Silver Bear for Best Actress and Best Actor in 2012, it undoubtedly became one of the most-watched Iranian Films of the last decade. The simple narrative of the films tells the tale of a married couple Nader and Simin, who lives in Iran along with their daughter Termeh. Simin wants to move out of the country and live a prosperous and better life. But her husband, Nader, could not accompany her because he has to look after his ailing father. Hence Simin wants a divorce from her husband.

As the narrative moves forward the viewers are presented with the information that the protagonist Nader is an honest guy who is saddled with the responsibility to pay for both child and eldercare. To find a caretaker proves to be a mammoth task in contemporary Iran for him. But Nader finally comes across Razieh, a disciplined Muslim who belongs to a lower-class society, even though she doesn’t tick all the required skilful boxes for a suitable caretaker. But his choice of appointment will prove to be a fatal option, as Razieh has her own sets of issues and problems and one of them is her volatile husband.


The theme of the film is universally relatable, and it offers an unprejudiced glance into the lives of Iran’s middle class, where the patriarchal culture and rigid societal norms often prove to be a deterrent to the well-intended actions of the individuals of the film. One is compelled to sympathize with the obligated decisions made by both Nader and Simin whose repercussions not only affect their individual lives but also impact the well-being of another family. A Separation is an easy fit among the best dysfunctional family films of the last decade.

Watch A Separation on Amazon Prime

3. The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

The narrative of the film begins with love at first sight kind of a situation for both the protagonists, Didier and Elise. The boy plays the musical instrument banjo in a bluegrass band whereas the girl owns a tattoo shop. Both the characters gravitate towards one another with their shared enthusiasm for American music and culture. Their mutual passion for music unites two completely different people. And both of them are besotted in love and as we expect to have an engagingly cheerful viewing experience.

But in an unexpected turn of fate all of a sudden encounter a drastic turn of event as it hits the family in the form of an illness and everything they adore and love is tested. Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen depicts a deeply emotional tale of labour and hardship where the seemingly happy portrait of a family is put into duress from the calamities of fate.


One of the intensely touching conflicting elements of the film comes in the form of the fact that Didier is an atheist and Elise believes in religion and when encountered with the tragedy their beliefs are questioned both by the characters and viewers alike. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, at the Academy Awards, 2014.

Watch The Broken Circle Breakdown on TUBI TV

4. The Past (2013)

Dysfunctional Family Films List - The Past
Behind the glass wall, which separates the baggage claim area from the busy airport terminal, Marie is awaiting the arrival of a passenger. She is holding a simple bouquet and waiting for her ex-husband Ahmad who wanders through the baggage claim area looking for a representative to report his missing suitcase. They both come face-to-face on either side of the glass wall. They cannot hear each other. From the expression on their faces, it is clear that they have not seen each other in a long time. She understands that his luggage has not arrived on the flight.


An engaging drama about helpless souls tied gripping with performances monitored under the skilful eye of the Iranian maestro Asghar Farhadi, the film is a profoundly intelligent drama that is compelling through its raw power and insight, it is sure to resonate with people across multiple layers of society. At the 66th Cannes Film Festival, held in 2013, the film won the festival’s Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Best Actress Award. The film was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 71st Golden Globe Awards.

5. Nahid (2015)

Dysfunctional Family Films List - Nahid

Nahid narrates the knotty situation of the titular character who has achieved freedom from the physical presence of her jobless and negligent ex-husband but since the laws of her Iranian country are tilted to favour patriarchy, she could not ward off his existence despite a divorce. She faces extreme financial hurdles to such an extent that she is unable to pay her monthly rent. She lives with her son who is the only prized possession apple of her eye.

But the son has a strong affinity with his father and as a result, has also cultivated some bad habits that get the young chap in trouble later in the film. She falls in love with a well-to-educated man who has a beautiful daughter and that is where the conflict, as well as friction, initiates between her and the ex-husband. And the rest of the film depicts hope she copes up with all the crisis and obstacles and negotiates with the liabilities of her existence in a rigid and parochial society.

As a debutant, Ida Panahandeh meticulously handles the theme with utmost maturity. She provides the viewer with a flamboyant and pragmatic rendition of a woman encountering restrains in contemporary Iran. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it won a Promising Future Prize.

6. Loveless (2017)

Dysfunctional Family Films List - Loveless
In one of the early scenes of the film the mother, Zhenya, emerges from the bathroom and returns to the kitchen, closing the door behind her this time. Out in the hallway, the door closes to reveal their child, Alyosha, who had been hidden behind it and his face is streaming with tears. He seems to be shrinking into the wall overhearing the disagreement and reluctance between his father Boris and mother over his custody after their divorce. And then the other morning the son vanishes for good and the rest of the film delves into the enormous and arduous search for the lost soul both physically and metaphorically.


With his fifth full-length feature film, the Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev cements his position yet again as one of the most interesting storytellers within the domain of serious cinema. The film not only features a position of arrogance and lovelessness amidst the couple but also within different characters of the film as a whole. At the 70th Cannes Film Festival held in 2017, the film went on to win the Jury Prize and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards.

7.  Capernaum (2018)

Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum has one of the hardest hitting courtroom scenes in the history of cinema where a young boy, Zain, in a chaotic atmosphere of the room, is asked by the Judge, ‘what’s all this fuss you’ve caused? On TV and the media, your phones call from prison? Know why you’re here?’. Without an iota of doubt, the boy replies with a yes. To which the Judge enquire why and the boy immediately blurts out that he wants to sue his parents. And the reason behind his hatred for his parents stems from the root cause that they have given him birth.

What follows next is a series of flashbacks through which come to know the reason behind young Zaid’s abhorrence for his parents. There certain scenes in the film that appears like a cinematic blow with a sledgehammer on the viewer’s gut. The Lebanese drama set in the slums of Beirut won the Jury Prize at the 71st Cannes Film Festival in 2018 as well as nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. Capernaum makes it to the best dysfunctional family films of the decade (the 2010s).


8. I was at home but…(2019)

If I can simply the storyline of the German family drama by Angela Schanelec it would be the sudden disappearance of a young boy aged 13 years old for almost a week and reappears suddenly and that sets a ripple effect in the family and brings forth an aura of introspection amongst different characters of the film.

The peaceful ambience of the family is abruptly disturbed. The narrative of the film moves in an elliptical pattern of telling the tale of distressed individuals and in a fragmented skip doesn’t have much expositional reasoning. In the process, it creates a kind of emotional as well as visceral response that lingers with the viewers even after the end credits had rolled. At the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, held in 2019, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director.


9. Ema (2019)

Dysfunctional Family Films List - Ema

Ema is one of the most complex films made by the Academy Award Nominated Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraínas this creative venture does not seem to have a cohesive storyline. Rather it is an erratic assortment of the number of events instead of a conventional plot-driven film. The film is inundated with subtext, allegories, and symbols. The film does not provide the viewers with a satisfactory resolution and at times we could not decipher the blurring lines between factual and dream-like scenes.

The poetic liberty undertaken by the filmmaker enables him to narrate the tale of a couple where their decision to adopt a child creates a detrimental situation in their peaceful existence puts a dent in their marital life. The film had its world premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival held in 2019.


10. Beyond The Horizon (2019)

The narrative of the film is set in the summer of 1997 and misfortune in the form of a drastic calamitous drought has cast its evil shadow upon the continent of Europe. And during this tumultuous phase, a young boy Gus spends his vacation at his parents’ farm, and through his innocent eyes the viewer witness how a happy family splits apart. In the process, Gus is compelled the difficult situation to confront the reality that outstrips his age.

The subjective placement of the camera works in synchronization with the psychological state of the protagonist. At the San Sebastián International Film Festival, held in 2019 the director of the film Delphine Lehericey won the Greenpeace Lurra Award. An apt title to find a place among the best dysfunctional family films of the last decade.


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