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Irreconcilable dissonances

‘My Happy Family’ is about the wife who isn’t

Ia Shugliashvili in “My Happy Family”

Tudor Panduru

If the title “A Separation” hadn’t already been taken by a recent Oscar-winning Iranian drama, it would’ve been perfect for this film from the nation of Georgia.

“My Happy Family” is an intentionally ironic title; the adjective “oblivious” would be more apt. Streaming exclusively on Netflix, it’s the portrait of a long-suffering middle-aged woman who must break free, not just from her husband but her entire household.

Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is part of a multi-generational family living under one roof at her mother’s house. Manana’s kids are young adults. None of the family—including her husband—appreciates her. Instead, they relate to her entirely on the basis of her traditional utilitarian roles. Stripped of personal identity, she’s not even allowed to celebrate her birthday on her own terms. They take her for granted yet expect everything from her.

With heartbreaking realism, “My Happy Family” shows what happens when our assumed roles become the only things that define us, or the only connections we have to others, particularly our loved ones. When that happens, we start to lose our humanity.

Introverted and distant, Manana begins to pull away, but her family is dismissive and annoyed by her depression, not sensitive or sympathetic to its causes or how severe it has become.

They get a wake-up call when Manana announces she’s moving to an apartment to live by herself—not for a while, but for good. She’s not looking for a lover, nor does she intend to cut herself off from her family; she simply can’t live with them or strictly for them.

There’s conflict and confrontation here, but not the typical overwrought, melodramatic beats. There’s no airing of the proverbial dirty laundry. Manana’s husband Soso doesn’t beat her. Her children aren’t brats. Nobody’s done any one thing. Tension and confusion arise from more common problems, like disregard and neglect.

The female–male directing duo of Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß intimately observe Manana in this oppressive environment, their camera lingering on her, accessing her exhausted psyche as life swirls around her. In this family, for that woman, life doesn’t enrich. It only drains.

Once free, Manana is a better mother because she finally has something to give back: her true self.

Shugliashvili embodies Manana’s beleaguered spirit. We empathize with her and sense the necessity of her decisions. In a society still following the patriarchal edict that a woman’s joy is her submission, she’s left with only one viable choice: independence.

Manana’s resolve to reclaim her life is a quiet but firm act of necessary self-empowerment, a kindred sister of #MeToo. 

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