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The Fam [2021]: ‘Berlinale’ Review – A mercurial coming-of-age portrait of a group of teenage girls at a care facility

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Basketball player turned filmmaker Fred Bailiff’s “The Fam” (La Mif) revolves around a group of girls in teenage home care. On paper, this Swiss drama sounds familiar enough – instead, Bailiff creates a hyperlink of narratives swinging from one character to another, giving us no flashbacks of their families and backgrounds. In doing so, Bailiff creates a compelling, thoroughly engaging drama razor-sharp in its critique- from the structure of family to that of Switzerland’s youth protection system.




Inspired by several stories of women who opened up to Bailiff about being socially ostracized, La Mif also stems out of the director’s personal roots. With a decade-long work experience at Geneva’s Social Work Institute, Bailiff also worked at the youth detention center for a while. The effect is palpable. La Mif feels distinctly raw in the manner it elicits a mercurial sense of passion, humor, and rage- as it calibrates the stories within a community. These girls have had difficult backgrounds; they have traumas that are never revealed- even as home director Lora (Claudia Grob) acts as the compassionate guardian whenever required. When one of the girls Audrey (Anaïs Uldry) is caught having sex with a teenage boy and the board members threaten to drag the case further, Lora draws the line. It is around this incident La Mif reverts back- from each of the girl’s perspectives, and each time it does, there is a different sense of reality peaking in.

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Captured mostly in freehold, long closeups, Joseph Areddy’s lens syncs with the ragged sense of attention each character demands. We start from Audrey, then move on to Novinho ( Kassia Da Costa), shifting to Precious (Joyce Esther Ndayisenga), then to Justine (Charlie Areddy), Tamra (Sara Tulu), and finally stop at Lora. Each of these chapters are directed with a precise sense of control- all revolving around some form of abuse, without being thematically exploitative or narratively cumbersome. Each chapter remains fresh and beautifully realized- with individual arcs pitted against the collective board decision hinted at the very beginning. Lora’s arc in particular, is a standout- with the realization that she needs those girls as much as they need her for stability, solidifying the interconnected roles of parenthood without adhering to undue sentimentality.

The Fam
Anaïs Uldry in The Fam

Bailiff stays grounded in bringing out the truth of each individual character even as it aims at a higher thematic leap- and eventually succeeds. The idea of “shelter” is explored from a perspective where it can offer relief, support, and recovery- out of league topics for these girls beyond this adopted care unit. Bailiff keenly observes the reality of this situation- where shelters are trying to protect them from the harsh realities of the world- even when these girls have grown accustomed to the trauma of some kind already. So where do these girls stay? Are they capable of escaping their own reality? If not escape, how do they accept? 




Bolstered by a spectacular cast of mostly unprofessional actors, The Fam remains continuously revelatory. Claudia Gorb-in particular, is superb as the one on the wrong side of the generation and age, bringing untapped amounts of depth to her wise-old matriarch. Nuance is not lost in tracing these multiple characters, as the traditional coming-of-age saga is turned over to examine various realities existing in parallel, in a simulacrum. The progression from one character to another also reflects on the way grief is shared, how a generation renders care to one another to how each act of rebellion within the shelter is ultimately rooted in a deep-seated truth.

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Decisions are made. But time and again in La Mif, the girls gather back and remember- that the group comes first. They have each other’s back. The rest of the world? That could come whenever- they cannot care less. Sometimes it works this way and sometimes it does not. But at the end of the day, they are family, and Bailiff’s film rightfully earns that title. Authentic, continuously surprising, and ultimately hopeful – The Fam (La Miff) is a sure-shot winner. In the end, we have to face our own trauma and continue to live with it, there’s no other way around. We still endure and survive. The girls know this. And that is all that should matter.




CLIP

‘THE FAM’ PREMIERED AT THE 2021 BERLINALE
CLICK HERE FOR OUR COMPLETE SUNDANCE COVERAGE

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER/EDITOR: Fred Baillif
DOP: Joseph Areddy
COUNTRY: Switzerland
LANGUAGE: French, Portuguese
RUNTIME: 112 MINUTES
LINKS: ROTTEN TOMATOES

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