With three films each under their belts, Alicia Scherson and Christián Jiménez have both climbed to the upper echelons of the burgeoning Chilean film scene. With Family Life, these old friends team up for the first time to tell a story that’s very personal for both of them.
Martín, a single guy in his early forties, is invited to come housesit while his distant cousin Bruno and his wife Consuelo are away for work in Europe. In no time at all he has lost the family cat and struck up a relationship with Paz, a single mom from the neighborhood. Martín tells her that he’s a divorced father, pointing to the family pictures all over “his” house as proof. That house, the location for much of the film, is actually Alicia Scherson’s own home.
Alicia Scherson: “The house was sort of the trigger for the film. It’s an old house, which we remodeled ourselves. I had my first daughter there, and I had been far from filmmaking for a while because of that. At some point I was sitting on the patio with Christián, where they have whisky in the film. We were looking around, and I was saying: it’s small, but there’s really a lot of camera positions, a lot of spaces. So that started us thinking about something light.”
Christián Jiménez: “I was visiting for the first time, I think, so I was discovering the house with Alicia. It’s super-photogenic and super-interesting. We had both just finished big projects, international coproductions, with a lot of waiting around. So we said: let’s do something collective, let’s co-direct, make it with our friends, and keep it light. We even called our production company ‘Featherlight’. And so we started looking for a story.”
AS: “That’s where Alejandro [Zambra] comes in. Christián had already adapted one of his novels, Bonsaí, and his new collection of short stories My Documents had just been released. The big coincidence was that when we called him about this idea, he immediately said that he had been thinking about turning this story into a film script. If you make films, you automatically become superstitious, because it’s these kinds of coincidences that give you the energy to keep working on something, while other ideas fade away.”
CJ: “The story really fit the house. And the generational aspects of the story were really interesting to us as well. It’s a story about hitting forty and doubting the place you’ve made in the world, something that really connected to our own lives and our discussions around the dinner table. Alicia had just become a mother, while other friends were very consciously not having kids; as filmmakers we have a chaotic life without much routine whereas others are working nine-to-five. So these ideas were in our heads, as they were for Alejandro.”
AS: “The plot of the film is exactly the same as Alejandro’s story, and a lot of scenes are there as well. But we expanded the first and last parts of the film, which focus on the family before and after the central part with Martin. In the short story they’re just bookends, maybe just one page each. We expanded them to play with something very cinematic: the point of view. First you think the point of view is the family; then they leave and it’s Martin; then they’re back again. In a way, the house becomes the perspective.”
CJ: “It’s unusual to co-direct when you’ve already done three films each. Alicia and I have been good friends since our college days, but still we were a bit concerned. We even created a protocol, with strict rules about who was in charge when and how we should behave on set. But that quickly evaporated: when I was sick, or Alicia had to breastfeed, the other just stepped in. After the first week, we were really directing in stereo.”
AS: “Fiction and reality were mixing all the time. For me, it was my first house and the first time I really had a family life; my daughter was just nine months old. So telling this story made me think about the choices I had made. The story is rather critical of both positions – the marriage is boring, and we show the ugly sides of family life. So I was constantly saying: No, we’re not like that. But then I was sleeping in the same bedroom!”
CJ: “Alicia sometimes says I’m like Martín, but I hope I’m a bit more responsible in my life! The story we tell in the film is really the result of a dialogue. At some point we started talking about the idea of fantasies, and that’s really central in the story. All the characters do what they do because of a fantasy they have. Martín has the fantasy of being a father. Consuelo wants to be more free and fantasizes of a life without responsibility. Bruno fantasizes about having sex with the attractive neighbor. Paz has a fantasy of a more stable life and a house. And even the cat has a fantasy of being more independent for a while, and gives it a go.”