Finding Truth In Artificiality – Werner Herzog’s Family Romance, LLC
I try to look into the soul of human beings,into to the soul of Japan. He spent decades travelling the globe during which he battled jungles, challenged volcanoes, and confronted the icy winters from Siberia to Antarctica, Who were the people I was going to meet atthe end of the world? What were their dreams? all to reach the heart of humanity and bring home remarkable stories of extraordinary individuals. Now Werner Herzog’s lifelong quest to articulatethe inner chronicle of what we are continues in the land of the rising sun with his new film Family Romance, LLC, which is now streaming exclusively on MUBI. .
The film opens with a young girl named Mahiro who is reunited with her long-lost father, and the two reconnect as they visit the park, go on a boat ride, and are entertained by a mime. However, we quickly learn that the man is not her father at all, but is instead an actor hired to take his place. This is Family Romance, LLC, a company thatrents out actors for various occasions. Need a missing family member to make an appearance? A fictitious coworker to take the blame foryour mistake on the job? Or a paparazzi group to turn you into a celebrity? Family Romance, LLC is there for you. And remember that mime? .
They got that covered too. While Family Romance, LLC is based on an actualcompany in Tokyo that rents out family members, Herzog deliberately staged and fictionalizedthese stories. This is because for him, the concept of arent-a-family business mostly served as a gateway; a gateway to a society that is increasinglyorganized around illusions. He emphasizes this by including many of the other manipulations of reality that can be found here, such as photobooths with extensive tools to alter your portraits, animatronic dragons telling your fortune, and hotels with robot receptionists and robot fish. .
It is a consciously stylized version of Japan that entices us to question the realness of what we’re seeing. Even the film itself, which was made with unprofessional actors and filmed by Herzog himself, radiates artificiality. And the purpose of this, as Herzog shows us, is to make us aware of the real, less obvious illusions: the illusions we create ourselves. At one point, a mother wants to hire a stand-infather to walk her daughter down the aisle, claiming he is not well enough to do it himself. Soon after however, the daughter reveals thatthis was a lie. In another example, when Mahiro is hanging out with her supposed father, .
She shows him an Instagram photo of her on a beach in Bali. As you can probably guess, this too was a lie. Gradually, Herzog directs us from this strangerent-a-family company, and all the technological marvels found in Japan, towards more universal revelations about humanity, about how we all, to a significant degree, live performative lives. This phenomenon about truth and performativelife and all this it’s worldwide phenomenon and it concerns every one of us in a way. He also invokes larger questions on the role of artificiality, .
Questions that hit closer to home than they initially appeared. Because when you think about it, are the robotic receptionists really that much of a leap from the artificial home assistants that turn on our lights and play our music? Are robot fish really that different fromartificial plants? Aren’t we all occasionally bending realityto cover up embarrassing details, or to appear more interesting? Do we ourselves not play different roles fordifferent people? These are the kind of questions that Herzogwants us to consider: .
Questions not about differences, but about commonalities. And so when he presents us with the strangeillusions that people create for themselves, like the woman who hires actors to relivethe happiest moment of her life; the moment she won the lottery. Or when he shows us the strange, yet real-life sources from which some people derive meaning, such as the odd rituals of this elderly fortune teller, or this phone to contact the spirits of deceased relatives that was placed here after the great tsunami of 2011, he does not do so with the intention to judge or ridicule, but to understand with empathy and dignity the fundamental humanity within their hearts, .
And the basic desires that drive all of us. We all want to belong, we all want to experience happiness, we all want to feel comfort in the face of uncertainty and suffering. And who can say they have never given in toa little make-belief to make that happen, even if it was only for a brief moment? Towards the end of the film, Mahiro’s pretend-fatheris offered to stay with the family for real, which is in direct conflict with the company’s policy that does not allow actors to love or to be loved. It raises the question if that which beganas an illusion can become truth? .
Herzog does not provide us with an answer, as he leaves us with the conflicted actor on the doorstep of a life that could be his, but in doing so, he once more invokes us to reflect on how illusions play a role in our lives. To what extent do we trick ourselves to be happy, to be fulfilled? Are illusions sometimes useful, necessaryeven, to feel more connected? Or to cope with the hardships of life; with loss, shame, or loneliness? Or is too much artificiality precisely the reason we can feel so alone and disconnected? In Family Romance, LLC, it is precisely by highlighting, and heightening, .
The manipulated realities found in modern society, that Herzog delivers another film that touches on a deeper, poetic truth, an ecstatic truth, as he would say, about the way we relate ourselves to others, and to reality in general, which seems to be a relation that is not about what is real and what is not, but rather about which illusions we deem acceptable, both as we perform them, and as they are performed for us. For ultimately, as Herzog seems to suggest, these are what truly determine our experienced realities, .
These define the inner chronicle of what we are, and we should not underestimate their power. Family Romance, LLC is streaming exclusively on MUBI, the curated streaming service showing handpicked exceptional films from around the globe, where you can watch a new film every day. Whether it's a timeless classic, a thought-provokingdocumentary, or an acclaimed masterpiece, there’s no better way to explore the riches of cinema. And if you go to MUBI.com/likestoriesofold, I’m happy to share this with you by offering 30 days for free. .
So if you want to see Herzog’s latest featureFamily Romance, LLC, be sure to check out MUBI.com/likestoriesofold, and begin your extended free trial today.