Home for the Holidays: Dysfunctional Families


A family functions by its own rules in ‘Dogtooth.’

One of the biggest buzzwords of the holiday season is, of course, family. This is supposed to be the time when all of us fall into the embrace of our actual relatives or the friends that we have replaced our blood relations with. For many people, that’s an exciting notion that they look forward to with great anticipation. For others, it is a thought that is troubling or fraught with unwanted tension and uncomfortable emotion. It is for those people in the latter category that this list was put together. These are the films that feature family situations that will hopefully help assuage your concerns about heading home for the holidays; the types of movies that you can draw from as a reminder that, well, you have it better.

1. Dogtooth (2009, Yorgos Lanthimos)
Meet the ultimate dysfunctional family. This dark masterwork from Greece centers around three young people who have been isolated from the rest of the world by their strange, overprotective parents. They have been taught a weird vocabulary, think that airplanes flying overhead are toys that occasionally drop into their yard, and have never been beyond the walls of the small compound their parents own. When small slivers of the outside world find their way inside the family home, things quickly go from strange to discomfiting.

2. Ursula (1961, Lloyd Michael Williams)
Psychological dramas are rarely this disturbing and experimental, but mercifully this one is dispensed of in a tidy 11 minutes of warped imagery and action. The titular character is a young girl being crushed under the weight of her overbearing mother. How bad is it? When Ursula damages the dress she is wearing after falling out of a tree, her mother teaches her a lesson by killing her pet bird in front of her.


Two Turkish assert their independence in ‘Times and Winds.’

3. Times and Winds (2006, Reha Erdem)
The young people in this beautiful Turkish film are, like any similar children their age across the globe, struggling to find their place in the world, and to assert their independence. For Omer, one of the three kids that the story centers on, it is a struggle to remove himself from under the thumb of his Muslim cleric father; for others, it is finding the first stirrings of sexual desire curtailed by your parents’ intrusions.

4. Mutum (2007, Sandra Kogut)
The remote province of Minas Gerais is the setting for this searing and poignant film that sees the struggles of migrant farmers and a frayed family relationship through the eyes of a shy, quiet 10-year-old boy. This work is made even more poetic and real due to the fact that almost all the people in it are non-actors—many of whom had never seen a movie before—all improvising their dialogue.

5. The Last Homecoming (2008, Korinna Avraamidou)
Set just prior to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, this Greek drama reflects the international tensions through the personal upheavals taking place within one family unit. Much of the stress emanates from romantic relationships, past and present, but is only the catalyst that helps ignite an already volatile situation between the three siblings in the film.

6. Home (2008, Ursula Meier)
The metaphor of industrialization, environmental degradation and humans’ attempts to adapt to this quickly changing world is the key to unlocking this quietly moving drama. But it is of course viewed through the prism of one family that is forced to deal with a once-abandoned highway near its home that is suddenly put back into use. Once their quiet, relative solitude is upended, the fissures start to appear.

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