My favorite movies are powerful in a subtle way, and My Happy Family (2017) is one of these. There are no actors you have seen before, yet they and their story is etched into memory.
Our story begins in the country of Georgia, I’m guessing in the capital of Tbisili, with an extended family doing their normal routine. We immediately feel part of their world. There are three generations in this family, soon to be four, all living together in a small apartment. The situation is tense. This is a tight family and a loving one, but the situation they are in is not conducive to happiness.
Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is the central figure – 52 years old, mother, wife, and daughter. She’s wants independence but leaving the family seems impossible. Slowly, deliberatively, quietly, and ultimately successfully, she creates her escape.
Manana finds a small apartment where she lives alone and attempts to control her life. Her kids are grown and she is not abandoning anyone.
Manana’s daily life is as mundane as it comes, and yet we are completely absorbed. She talks little but says a lot. She’s overwhelmed by the sounds of people at the few social events she attends. She’s a great Mom. No one can understand; she doesn’t care.
The pacing is slow, to be sure, but Shugliashvili’s portrayal of Manana is engrossing. I kept wondering why I stayed with it, but I couldn’t leave.
Despite its overall quiet, music fills the film. Manana plays Mozart CDs in the apartment. The men in the family belt out Georgian folk songs in melodious open harmonies at the social events. And Manana is a musician. She enchants us with her beautiful voice.
Manana is a quiet feminist and although she tries hard, she cannot quite create a full life for herself in her traditional world.
Screenplay: Nana Ekvtimishvili
Director: Simon Gross