Family Viewing (Canada, 1987):

Meditatively droll, Atom Agoyan's provocative sophomore outing is all spiritual death and screens-within-screens. His naïf-hero this time is a teenage misfit (Aidan Tierney) saddled with a callow father (David Hemblen) and a sexy stepmother (Gabrielle Rose) at home and a bereft grandmother (Selma Keklikian) in the nursing ward. When he realizes that his father is erasing memories by taping over old family movies with homemade porn, Tierney teams up with phone-sex operator Arsinée Khanjian and the Oedipal quest is on. Like his debut Next of Kin, the picture is about the search for an alternative family (and, thus, an alternative reality), with the overthrow of patriarchy leading to a feminized new order, though even then the harmony is undercut by a surveillance camera's peeping orb. Where in the earlier film video was a therapeutic tool at the service of contemporary malaise, Agoyan here places it squarely at the dislocation's very roots -- family and identity breakdown are linked directly to the replacement of lived life with media images. The lack of connection infuses the self-reflexibility of Egoyan's newfound style, the most marked advance from Next of Kin's visual neutrality: the home scenes are like TV, leeched out of color and flattened by zooms, while the rest of the story is shot through with a low-budget but almost Lynchian queasy voluptuousness. (Keeping up with its intertextual frissons, it's no accident that Tierney looks like a young, more pliant version of Peeping Tom's Carl Boehm, another indelibly helpless watcher.) Also with Jeanne Sabourin, and Rose Sarkisyan.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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