London Film Festival 2009: THE LAST DAYS OF EMMA BLANK Review

For anyone who's ever had a relative ask something unreasonable of them under the guise of familial duty, this one's for you. Like Festen, that milestone of family dysfunction, this absurdist Dutch satire on family values sounded exactly like my cup of tea. The Last Days Of Emma Blank is a surreal, blackly comic insight into the final days of a dying but surprisingly sprightly matriarch as her extended family pander to her every need. The titular, cantankerous mother (Marlies Heuer) treats her daughter Gonnie (Eva van de Wijdeven) like a maid and her brother Theo (director Alex van Warmerdam), quite literally, like a dog. Into the mix are tireless cook Bella (Annet Malherbe), melancholy handyman Meijer (Gijs Naber) and butler/husband Haneveld (Gene Bervoets), all at her beck and call. For Emma only the absolute best is good enough - picky, dismissive and cold, she's seemingly lost track of all joy.

The Last Days... makes sly digs at familial duty, greed and hypocrisy as Emma's unending and increasingly unreasonable demands eventually take their toll and a mutiny of sorts takes hold. At first appearing as actual servants, a series of comic set-ups introduce the family and their blood ties. A particularly amusing episode has Emma instruct her down-trodden husband to instantly grow a moustache, leading to a bizarre catwalk display of assorted false lip pieces. There's also considerable comic mileage had from Theo's 'human dog'. Whether through encouraging him to take a number 2 in the garden, the numerous dry humpings or simply going for a walk (doggy-style), it's a witty subversion of the notion that we treat our pets too like humans.

Beyond these comic trappings, the drama struggles. A subplot involving Gonnie's potential suitors is curiously uninvolving with the surreal slant to proceedings allowing the audience little empathy with any of the characters. Her youthful desire to leave the oppressive confines of the stale family environment (she's been flirting with Meijer since a little kid) however is the key impetus behind the narrative's progression, and she does provide much needed drama away from Emma's comic interludes.

Much like French comedy Let's Talk About The Rain, it is enjoyable and amusing but lacks the substance that would make it more memorable. Fun whilst you watch, but fades soon after.
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