Family Romance, LLC
8th October 2019 6.20pm at empire
9th October 2019 3.30pm at Prince Charles Cinema
Renowned for his ultra-unique approach to cinema and the obscurity of his subject matter, Werner Herzog presents yet another curious picture that combines great disbelief with his trademark surrealism. The difference in Family Romance, LLC is that the concept in question is a very real phenomenon.
For this film, the director has travelled to Japan to document in drama form the operations of Family Romance, LLC, a rental company for human beings. Should you wish to hire a man to give your daughter away at her wedding, Family Romance can provide one. Have you ever wanted to be famous? Family Romance can orchestrate a fake publicity stunt to heighten your coverage on social media. In the film, company founder Ishii Yuchii plays himself as he is hired to fill in as a missing father to Mahiro, an introverted 12-year-old girl. As the pair spend more time together, they begin to build the foundations of a father/daughter relationship, but as Ishii gets stuck in a vicious circle of guilt over his clients, he gradually loses touch with his own family and eventually questions the meaning of his life.
When you think about it, the Family Romance company is advanced – bringing joy to those who need it and even adapting to the modern age to bring fame to those who can afford it. It is initially staggering that companies like this exist, but soon it seems believable. In the 21st century, the world is far more accessible, with technology boosting the human race’s ability to achieve whatever it wishes, so why should the idea of people pretending to be other people in order to restore happiness to someone’s life be considered barbaric?
But there can never really be a genuine replacement for the real thing, something that Ishii and Mahiro begin to realise as their companionship blossoms too heavily on one side of the scales. In true Herzog fashion, Family Romance, LLC is a relentless barrage of questions about morality, and Ishii brings these to life exceptionally well, appearing in practically every scene – the weight of which must have been immeasurable for a non-professional actor.
Herzog shoots this film on a handheld camera, giving the movie a documentary feel, but also making it appear natural and unscripted, as if he were simply following these characters as they go about their everyday lives. This rough and ready approach is a testament to the director’s visionary skills, a hurdle he clears pretty effortlessly, and when balanced by glorious drone shots of cityscapes and local parks, it makes the film surprisingly aesthetically pleasing. A lovely Ernst Reijseger score aids scenes to transition from location to location with ease.
There are, however, certain holes in the narrative that leave our queries unanswered, including the befriending of a toddler who has been bullied for the colour of her skin, taking her off for the day without a thought for where her parents are and how frightened they must be that their child has simply vanished with strangers. The filmmaker attempts to legitimise the scene through a thematic exploration of racial discrimination and love, but in all honesty, this simply wouldn’t happen. Family Romance, LLC is a strange beast; but then, we expect no less from Werner Herzog.
Family Romance, LLC does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Family Romance, LLC here: