Georgian Netflix film explores middle-aged crisis

Photo courtesy of Karat, Flickr

Georgian born writer and director Nana Ekvtimishvili follows up her award-winning movie “In Bloom,” with the subtle, but sluggish film, “My Happy Family.” The movie describes an unconventional rite of passage as middle-aged wife and mother, Manana Ia Shugliashvili, breaks free from the grasp and stress of her strict, traditional family life and seeks refuge in the form of an apartment that she can call her own.

It is common in Georgian-society for several generations of family members to live under one roof and Shugliashvili’s family makes sure to remind her of that cultural distinction at every opportunity. The women are expected to devote their lives and sacrifice their own happiness for the good of the family, and it has become clear that Shugliashvili no longer wants to live this way. Her underlying distress is not always evident and it comes as a major shock to her family.

Shughliashvili makes the unfavorable decision to move out of the congested apartment that she shares with her parents, husband, children and a nonstop influx of visiting family members and friends. Without much context, Shughliashvili is able to masterfully express her dejection for her current situation and becomes extremely easy to relate to as most people have felt the need for a break from the people we spend most of our time with.

Through constant badgering and a litany of shaming techniques, her family looks for an answer as to why she has decided to leave. Unfortunately, this is an answer they will never receive, as Shugliashvili cannot bring herself to admit that it is in fact her family themselves and their incessant involvement in her every decision that has pushed her away.

The film takes a brief dive into Shugliashvili’s past and some of the issues concerning her as she poses as a gas meter reader, observing the lifestyle of her husband’s former mistress and illegitimate son. Shugliashvili’s blank expressions and lack of assertiveness in this potentially hostile situation show a person who has been raised in a culture that stifles the personal growth of women. This point is proven further as she witnesses her daughter’s boyfriend with another woman and chooses to remove herself from the situation, only suggesting that the two need to work it out amongst themselves.

Once on her own, the audience sees Shugliashvili enjoy the simplest pleasures in life: eating cake without being judged, planting tomatoes in her garden and even visiting old friends without her spouse present. Shughliashvili never verbally reveals why she has decided to leave her traditional life, but shows strong conviction in that it is absolutely the correct and only choice for her. “My Happy Family” tells the story of a courageous woman who is no longer concerned with living her life for others, but being spirited enough in her beliefs to seek out what will truly make her satisfied.