Published Jun 20, 2008In one sense, Family Motel is a cut above the usual Canadiana. Where most of our allegedly socially conscious cinema exploits politics for smug self-righteousness, Helene Klodawsky clearly gives a damn about the nightmare of poverty and racism.
Theres no denying that she has her ducks in a row in detailing the trials of Ayan (SamSam Ahmed), a refugee from Somalia who finds herself evicted and has to take her two teenage daughters to the purgatorial way station of an inner-city motel. Klodawsky details the Kafka mind fuck of dealing with social services, the boredom and isolation of her two daughters, the bigotry of social workers and neighbours, and the vulnerability of being in a terrible neighbourhood, navigating cultural rules that are not your own.
But though its good at showing the structure by which the system keeps people miserable and frightened, it doesnt bring the people alive. Klodawsky has mistaken the outline for the work itself: her characters are pretty sketchy, are introduced only to make social points and never once evoke the tangle of emotions and confusions that one would experience in this situation.
Having been a veteran of the welfare system, I can vouch for the veracity of her claims and the authenticity of her data. However, her recounting of that data is a little too orderly, a little too systematic to truly evoke the panic and fear of being held over the abyss by a slender thread thats too damn tight around your waist.
The film needs to see these people as something other than chessmen on a political board, and while the director has taken a big step away from the complacency of our national cinema, she has a long way to go before she makes her sympathies stick. (NFB)