How much solitude do we need? Where do we draw the line between what we do for others and what we do for ourselves? My Happy Family (2017) will remind you the importance of these questions.
If we’re lucky, our birthday is the only date where we can to do exactly what we want to do. Because it’s “our day,” everyone tries to please us: we get to choose how we spend the day, where we want to go to eat, and the flavor of our birthday cake. But sometimes, our loved ones are so eager to please us that they do what they think we want instead of what we actually want. Love, in this case, prevents them from listening to our real wishes. So they make the mistake of throwing a big party for us instead of the quiet get-together we wished for. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not a big deal, right? It comes from a good intention, right? This unfortunate situation happens to Manana, the protagonist of Nana Ekvtimishvili's and Simon Gross’ My Happy Family (2017). For Manana, the big party she didn’t ask for wasn’t just an innocent mistake.
In what ways do we confuse love with control? Take the case of the main character's husband, Soso, who thinks it’s important to maintain the image of a happy family instead of actually making his family happy. As the guests he invited to Manana’s birthday party arrive, we realize that the number of guests and what they require form Manana as a host are slowly suffocating her by putting her in a role she doesn’t want to be in. Here, we understand that this is an extreme example of what she deals with everyday in a household that's too crowded, a typical setting in Georgian society.
“I won’t explain it to anyone.” Those are the words that Manana uses after she decides to leave her family and go live by herself. For her, the party was the last straw. By doing so, she invites us to ask ourselves: Do we always have to explain our actions? Do we always have to offer clear reasons to justify ourselves? Manana is regarded and defined by her role in the lives of the men of her family. In the eyes of others, she’s a mother, a daughter, and a wife, never an individual. For that reason, saying “I simply want to live by myself” wouldn’t be a satisfactory explanation.
A lot of times, our families know us too well and not at all. They witness our growth since childhood until they build a strict concept of who we are, and don’t allow more growth to expand from there. They think they know our “essence,” that anything new is a pretense. Those ideas can manifest in the spaces we live in, and in My Happy Family it manifests through Manana’s lack of space, time, and privacy. How much solitude do we need? Where do we draw the line between what we do for others and what we do for ourselves?
When Manana finally finds herself in the emptiness of her new apartment, we’re finally able to breathe with her. But we’re left wondering if that freedom is real after we realize she’s still being watched and guarded from afar by her brother. Her struggle and apparent success will make you think about the importance of space for our individuality, as well as what can we do to change other people’s definition of ourselves and be able to find our own.
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