Cinema is one great big illusion. Compiled out of 24 images, filmmakers from around the globe have been testing the limits of the art-form for over a century at this point. Film is arguably the most artistically liberating medium out there, where artists can practice the act of photography, writing, musical composition, drama, and the occasional dance, all in one product. The trickiest part about the cinematic medium in present day, is subverting audience’s expectations. It’s difficult to deceive an entire demographic nowadays, especially in a time of viral marketing campaigns, nauseating pre-shows, and annoying poster designs. The last time I could clearly remember being tricked by a film was with Simon Rouby’s Adama, in which it’s beautifully designed computer generated clay aesthetic, had me fooled into thinking that the film was stop-motion animated until the twenty minute mark.
Now, in 2019, a new film has garnered this distinction. Herzog’s latest feature Family Romance, LLC feels so real, so authentic, that if it wasn’t for the obvious closeups and obscure drone shots that looked forcibly staged, I would have easily believed that this film was a documentary. The prominent usage of cellular recording devices adds a cheap layer authenticity, alongside the strangely charming low production value. There’s even a scene where we can clearly see Herzog’s coat appear through a photo booth monitor! This clear stylistic choice ultimately leads to an important discussion on human attention and relationships. The film is a riveting, insightful commentary on East Asian culture, and the international importance of family dynamics. Herzog delves deep into satirizing concepts based on technology, role-models, and lust; and frames the featured individuals as flawed human beings.
Whilst the film does eventually run out of steam during its final few minutes, where it heavily contradicts it’s narrative with some additional broad ideas and concepts based on artificial intelligence and isolation; the end product more than justifies it’s extended run-time. Altering genre tropes is one thing. Straight up tricking an entire audience into believing a fictional narrative is very much real, is a massive accomplishment.
In the case of Family Romance, LLC however, it’s difficult to really comment on the performances, when the line is so thinly drawn. If there was one clear standout to mention though, it would easily be Mahiro Tanimoto’s prominent role as a teen who is deceived into believing that one of the workers at Family Romance is her long lost father. Her role is complex, well spoken, and tragically moving.
Be prepared for an existential crisis, cause’ Family Romance, LLC blurs the line between fact and fiction perfectly. While based on a very real business model and infamous CEO, Herzog largely in parts experiments and improvises with his actors in order to accomplish the impossible; the aforementioned mixture of the best of both worlds, reality versus illusion. As the credits role, Werner asks the viewer a very simple question:
Is fulfilling an extravagant fantasy worthwhile, even if you know it’s fake?
The answer? That’s up for you to decide.
Family Romance, LLC screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema. Film Constellation will release the film in the coming months.