Films explore family trials, triumphs

Family issues were another major theme at the Cannes filmfest. These weren't always treated optimistically, suggesting that filmmakers are aware of the challenges facing traditional family ideals.

One of the more positive visions is found in The Straight Story, a surprisingly gentle, G-rated film that marks a radical departure for David Lynch, who's better known for horrific tales. Here he tells the fact-based story of an elderly man (Richard Farnsworth) who learns that his brother is ill, feels regret over their estrangement in recent years, and hops onto a slow-moving lawn-mower tractor for a weeks-long journey to the ailing man's side.

The movie shows a trace of skepticism toward family togetherness - it depicts no households with children - but its view of fraternal loyalty is remarkably moving.

Limbo, by John Sayles, takes a more complicated approach. The main characters are a hard-working young mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), her emotionally disturbed daughter, and a man with a troubled past who joins them on an unexpected adventure that could prove deadly. Sayles takes great storytelling risks, withholding neat answers to the unsettling questions raised by his unpredictable tale. This unresolved quality may irritate some viewers, but it throws the movie's family concerns into even higher relief.

Family issues also surface in Steven Soderbergh's melodrama The Limey, with Terence Stamp as a criminal avenging his daughter's death; Eric Mendelsohn's dramatic comedy Judy Berlin, about strained relationships in suburban households; and Michael Winterbottom's drama Wonderland, exploring life in an English housing project.

Pedro Almodvar's acclaimed All About My Mother uses a son's death to spark a many-layered tale of love and loss, while Arturo Ripstein's somber No One Writes to the Colonel depicts a Mexican couple facing poverty and old age together.

Rosetta, the top Cannes prizewinner by Belgian directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, tells the ferocious tale of a teenage girl with an irresponsible mother, and the stunning Sicilia!, by Danile Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, visits a mother and son in the Italian countryside.

Families are clearly on the minds of filmmakers in many lands.

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