Film review: SKYLAB, from Built For Speed

Julie Delpy seems to treat her films as a form of family therapy as they frequently explore the emotional bonds and conflicts inherent in families.

Her latest film Skylab is no different as it plunges us into a (possibly autobiographical) childhood reminiscence of a pivotal time in a woman named Albertine’s (Karin Viard) life. Neither plot driven nor particularly episodic, the film simply depicts 11 year old Albertine (Lou Alverez) and her extended family during a get-together at a bucolic French rural property in 1979.

For the first half hour it’s hard to know exactly where this sedate, almost torpid film is going.  The camera just floats about the gathering as Albertine’s relatives eat, get drunk and engage in conversations that range from intellectual to banal and occasionally mention films of the era such as Apocalypse Now and Alien. It becomes apparent, though, that this film is only concerned with Albertine’s memories of the people who helped shape her personality. The film accurately captures the dynamics of an extended family get-together and contains characters whom just about anyone will identify in their family; drunken uncles and all. Delpy’s father Albert once again makes an appearance, this time as an elderly uncle seemingly in the early stages of dementia.

Typical of Delpy’s films, Skylab has a light, warm and quirky tone although, as the film proceeds, the calm is increasingly broken by angry outbursts as family members’ hidden resentments and volatile political opinions surface.  The latent family tensions are a looming threat much like the titular satellite which in 1979 was about to crash to earth.

While many of the film’s attempts at humour fall flat, there are a few genuinely funny moments, particularly when Albertine’s gangly teenage cousin Christian (Vincent Lacoste) makes a clumsy attempt to appear cool. There’s also an excellent sequence at a dance where, amid the regular disco songs of the era, the DJ suddenly plays an obscene Dead Kennedys track.

The film has a large ensemble cast which means that screen time is spread too thin across the characters and only a few of them have much impact.  Particularly memorable, though, are the precocious Albertine, her vitriolic left-wing mother played by Julie Delpy herself and Albertine’s disturbed former paratrooper uncle (Denis Menochet) who’s struggling to adjust to civilian life.

While a perceptive and engaging look at childhood and family and for Gen x-ers, a nice nostalgic piece, the film outstays its welcome by about 20 minutes, something that might have been avoided if Delpy had ditched the framing device showing Albertine in the present day.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Julie Delpy

Release date: 14th Mar 2013

Running time: 113 mins.

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