The latest entry in the classic comedy sub-genre of family reunions, Le Skylab is also a slightly left field entry, coming as it does from French actress/director Julie Delpy, best-known for Richard Linklater's twinned travelogues Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, but a director in her own right. Setting her somewhat autobiographical film in the Summer of 1979 when the Skylab space station was threatening to fall over Europe, Ms. Delpy tells the story of an extended family coming together over 24 hours in the family estate in Brittany to celebrate the birthday of matriarch Amandine (Bernadette Lafont) to which all of her children have travelled with spouses and grandkids in tow.

     It's a slight story, as seen through the eyes of 11-year old granddaughter Albertine (Lou Alvarez). It takes in her exposure to adult-themed films by her bohemian, left-leaning performer parents, her rowdy games with her cousins and her infatuation with a local, older youth, set against the family's political and personal squabbles, in particular the feminist chafing raised by Albertine's mum (Ms. Delpy herself), who is the most urbane and enlightened of the women, a committed lefty who gets in spitting matches with her ex-military brother-in-law Roger (Denis Ménichot). All of it is engagingly performed by an enlarged ensemble cast, minutely and delicately managed by the director so that everyone gets their moment to shine, with Lubomir Bakchev's golden-hued lensing perfectly recapturing the wondrous light of Summer vacations. There's also a moving passing of the torch in the cast's meshing of veteran performers: the elderly family members are played by Nouvelle Vague égeries Bernadette Lafont and Emmanuelle Riva, and by Ms. Delpy's own father Albert.

     But none of this warmth and sensibility truly makes up for the shortcomings of the film, awkwardly framed as a flashback to 1979 by the older Albertine, played by a grating Karin Viard in ill-advised and pointless contemporary bookends. The actual slightness of the narrative, where most of the sprawling cast doesn't have the time to actually develop their characters beyond one-note archetypes (and the ones that do have the time are usually lateral to the film's main thrust) means the film never truly coheres as more than a loose series of Summer souvenirs. Which is fine as far as it goes, but prevents it from becoming as memorable as that Summer of '79 must have been for the writer/director.

Bernadette Lafont, Emmanuelle Riva, Éric Elmosnino, Julie Delpy, Aure Atika, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h, Noémie Lvovsky, Candide Sanchez, Denis Ménochet, Valérie Bonneton, Albert Delpy, Vincent Lacoste, Sophie Quinton, Marc Ruchmann, Michèle Goddet, Luc Bernard, Lou Alvarez, Karen Viard, Léo Michel-Freundlich, Lily Savey, Maxime Julliand, Antoine Yvard, Anne-Charlotte Moquet, Pierre-Louis Bozonnet, Mathilde Bozonnet, Chloé Antoni, Angelo Sonny, Félicien Moquet, Sandrine Bodènes, Anthony Kimmerle.
     Director/writer, Julie Delpy; cinematography, Lubomir Bakchev (color, processing by Digimage); designer, Yves Fournier; costumes, Pierre-Yves Gayraud; editor, Isabelle Devinck; producer, Michael Gentile (The Film, Mars Films, France 2 Cinéma, Tempête Sous Un Crâne Production), France, 2010, 114 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance screener DVD, Lisbon, May 13th 2012. 


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