FFF:Le Skylab – Julie Delpy does family

I’ve just spent a delightful couple of hours romping through Julie Delpy’s childhood – or at least one particular part of her childhood. Julie Delpy is a woman of roughly the same age as me, and even though we lived and grew up in different countries it turns out there are many similarities in our upbringing. The drinking (I clearly remember getting into the car with very drunk -loveing-parents.  No one gave a thought to drink driving in those days.  Or seatbelts for the kids in the back seat.) and the loud mouth argumentative political banter. Its something we don’t see so much of anymore, that gut wrenching political passion thrown back and forth at the dinner table. It’s not polite.  It wasn’t polite then – but hey… we were all drunk!

The Skylab is a lovely comedic drama about this one particular party that a family have come together  to celebrate the matriarchs sixty-seventh birthday. A menagerie of parents and children convene to drink, eat, squabble and dodge the drenching showers that appear and disappear with comic suddenness. Later in the evening, the younger members of the party attend a youth disco nearby, where Albertine (Lou Avarez the films protagonist based on Delpy’s own life at eleven) experiences the delights and pains of first love. This is one crucial element in her transition from schoolgirl to teenager in a picture, which takes a very French and frank attitude to pre-teens’ emotional and sexual education. Indeed, sexual matters pop up frequently in the adults’ conversations, whether or not their offspring are present including references to sperm, the Pill and “sodomy.”



Albertines difficulties in love and life are breezilly dismissed by her Bohemian actor parents – Anna (Delpy) and Jean (Eric Elmosnino), whose leftist political position creates fiction in the very right-wing family, particularly with Uncle Roger (Denis Ménochet). There is all the subterfuge and undercurrents of any family interaction, while at the same time,  a deep abiding love between brothers, sisters, in-laws and parents.

A lot of attention has been paid to set design, art direction, costumes etc. It’s all very seventies, including a killer soundtrack that had my little memories come flooding back. Delpy’s cleverest ploy involves presenting the narrative as a visualization of the adult Albertine’s memories as she travels with her own husband and children several decades later. These book-ending sequences are somewhat clunky in their execution, but their memory-lane angle serves to excuse whatever exaggerations and indulgences Delpy may commit in-between — and this does end up seeming like one very long and implausibly eventful 24 hours.  It’s nice to see Albertine (Karin Viard) years later looking like her mother and married to a man who looked just like her first love. It’s these little touches, throughout the film, that give it a sense of belonging to someone, not just an abstract statement about families in a certain era. Speaking of a certain era, there is no internet here, no video games, and only cartoons to entertain the children on television, so outdoorsy games are still played by all the children together – forced to get along – forced to work everything out between themselves.

It is Delpy’s character that fears the falling Skylab – very big news at the time.  As it turns out, it did fall as promised, but it fell in Australia – something that was unexpected. part of what makes this film seem to real is the fact that it is a slice of Delpy’s life. “A lot of the lines in the film are literally out of my memory [of the time],” says Delpy, lounging on a sofa. “And some characters are based on people I knew. The main little girl in the film, Albertine, is basically me.”

“It’s a movie about people coming together to drink and eat lamb,” says Delpy. “I wanted it to feel like an idyllic afternoon with an undertone that something could happen, just like the Skylab is lurking to fall on to them. There’s also a bit of tension – you can sense that there are political differences between these people. As the day progresses, they get more drunk, more tired, and things start to come out.”

All in all this was a lovely, pleasant experience.  I was very safe in the warm hands of this competent, clever and very witty writer director.