Published May 03, 2011Although this Latvian documentary may only be 58 minutes long, it is definitely going to be known as the one most memorable premiering at this year's Hot Docs film festival. Director Andris Gauja provides a harrowing look into the life of a young mother living in rural Latvia, with her two young children.
Family Instinct chronicles the emotional distress and life of Zanda, a broken woman forced to take care of her children alone when the father is taken to prison for a year. The fact that the father of Zanda's babies is also her brother is surprisingly one of the least shocking things you will see in this surreal documentary.
From its fly-on-the-wall point-of-view, the audience is forced to feel like voyeurs when watching Zanda make horrible life decisions, such as drinking in front of her children, hanging out with strange men and getting into fights with her other drunken, platonic brother and his girlfriend.
Despite the fact that there's much ugliness to be seen in Gauja's groundbreaking doc, there is also many absurd moments that create laughs, such as Zanda's brother trying to sell his mother's rooster for beer money, Zanda's neighbour constantly making passes at her and Zanda's mother's reaction when the family dog eats a kitten sleeping on the kitchen floor.
In fact, the documentary is so absurd that it leads viewers to believe what they are watching isn't a real account of a family's life because many of the shocking moments in Family Instinct seem too staged and outlandish to ever be taken seriously.
It's hard to believe that Family Instinct is only under an hour long, as the events that occur in the film, ranging from binge drinking to incest, make the film seem far longer with its unsettling subject matter.
In spite of the bleak, dark tone of Gauja's Family Instinct, he is still able to convey beauty and humour through his voyeuristic documentary and prove that despite the odds, any family can put the "fun" back into dysfunctional. (Fa Filma)