A quote from Ayn Rand offers a thought-provoking perspective: “Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.” So is there a truth embedded in the belief that happiness is what we can create for ourselves?
Based on a similar line of thought, Nana Ekvtimishvili builds the story of Georgian drama My Happy Family (2017) which she co-directs with Simon Gross.
Glimpses of the story
My Happy Family mirrors a Georgian household where three generations live under the same roof. The protagonist is Manana, a school teacher in her fifties who lives with her aged parents, husband Soso, son Lasha, married daughter Nino, and son-in-law Vakho.
In a move totally unanticipated, Manana shocks her family by announcing that she has made up her mind to move out and stay separately all by herself. In a patriarchal set-up, a married woman leaving her family to live on her own is viewed as disrespecting all traditional norms. Such an act is perceived as disgraceful. “What will people say?” is the question that inevitably arises in such a scenario.
Manana’s case is no exception. A stream of unsolicited advice comes pouring in, including her nagging mother trying to enforce her point of view and her overprotective brother offering his two cents.
No explanations presented and no questions answered, Manana does not budge an inch from her decision and leaves home.
What awaits Manana as she opens a new chapter in her life? Finally does she rejoice over her decision or regret leaving her family?
The story moves forward with gentle strides
The film, in its measured pace, unfolds Manana’s story before and after she moves out. We get to see her life through a lens of realism.
It’s a natural flow of events, and her life does not change dramatically after leaving her family. Manana does not do anything phenomenal to be happy. She indulges in mundane chores like going to the market and cooking and seeks solace in simple things. Sitting by the balcony with a slice of cake, mesmerized by the breeze, she enjoys Mozart’s music that replaces the bickering she had gotten used to. Previously, she lived in a flat with limited area where she had to keep clothes in a bedroom occupied by her daughter and son-in-law. Now she has that open space all to herself.
We do not see Manana disassociating herself completely from her family after she leaves them. There are instances when happenings in her children’s life still bother her. It is not an easy breeze to enjoy her new sense of freedom. Her peace of mind is deeply disturbed when she discovers a shocking truth about Soso at her high school reunion.
These subplots contribute to the realistic angle that tightens the narrative and makes the story convincing. Also, what places the film on a strong foundation are the impressive performances of Ia Shugliashvili (playing Manana) and the rest of the star cast who do justice to their parts.
The layers of feminism in the film
My Happy Family can easily qualify to be in the genre of feminist films. It is the story of a woman charting out a course of action which she feels will make her life move at ease. She asserts her independence and seeks freedom by sojourning on a path to look for peace.
It is not uncommon to find women who, in spite of desiring a way out of the trappings of a patriarchal society, keep their frustrations buried. Manana is the outlier here to muster the courage to take such a big step.
The uniqueness of the plot
The unconventional handling of the story is what makes it unique. Manana battles with her emotions to decide what is best for her. But there is an absence of moralizing, with no judgment passed as to whether she has made a right decision or she has erred.
The film concludes without ending the journey in a cul-de-sac but rather leaving the road open. There are issues to ponder, and a lot is left to the imagination. The central question is: What does one look for in a marriage, and is happiness all about being flocked by your kith and kin?
Refreshingly different, My Happy Family portrays with fine nuances the issues within a family that may be shoved under the carpet yet cannot be ignored. I recommend watching it to appreciate the cinematic brilliance of a beautifully made Georgian film.
This article was first published in Women’s Web )
(My Happy Family is currently streaming on Netflix)