A Perfectly Normal Family - International Film Festival Rotterdam review

★★★★★

Directed by #MalouReymann

Starring: #MikkelBoeFølsgaard #KayaToftLoholt #NeelRønholt #RigmorRanthe

Film Review by Nathanial Eker


First time director Malou Reymann presents a heart-wrenchingly honest portrait of a household in crisis in her seminal debut, A Perfectly Normal Family. Reymann, who reportedly went through such a trauma herself, grips with an engaging look at the modern family dynamic, and how challenges to the established order affect its most vulnerable members. Combining personal experience with an intuitive grasp of human behaviour, Reymann crafts a piece that’s thoughtful, intimate, and hopeful.


Emma has what you’d consider to be a ‘normal’ family life. That is, until one day her Dad announces that he intends to transition into a woman. Through tense therapy sessions, upsetting holidays, and acts of teenage rebellion, the family must work hard to adapt to this new way of living together, if that’s even possible.


Reymann cleverly aligns us with Emma, empathically presenting the situation through the eyes of a confused child. Where her bravado filled older sister Caroline bluntly accepts that their Dad is ‘dilating to stretch her vagina’, Emma finds the affair far more challenging. She’s thrust into a cocoon of seclusion; as her outer self smiles fake smiles, she painfully struggles with the loss of order, emphasised by an isolating shallow depth of field.


Traditional gender norms are flirted with throughout. In her world of amateur football, Emma is flooded with talk of ‘boys go here, girls go there’, leading to further confusion as to who her father is. Engaging aesthetic choices also lend a hand, as her father, as Thomas associates with traditionally masculine colours. As Agnete, however, she’s engulfed by reds, pinks, and oranges, further separating her from who she once was. The decision to juxtapose the most tempestuous scenes with archived family films is a clever one, demonstrating a perceived happiness of the heteronormative unit, a ‘seemingly simpler time’ as the film’s biography notes.


Reymann’s window into a difficult situation offers a mostly neutral approach with many questions but few answers. At times, as in life, everyone is selfish, even oblivious to the feelings of their struggling family. With her stellar script, Reymann creates characters that leap from their screen with devastating realism and exceptional performances. Young Kaya Toft Loholt offers a heart-wrenching turn as Emma, bringing a subdued pain that makes us physically ache for her plight. Yet, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard offers equal weight, as he embodies the trauma of a crisis of identity, and the burden of juggling parental responsibility.


Of course, A Perfectly Normal Family raises numerous important LGBTQ+ questions. If one is trapped in the wrong body, how does one handle their existing relationships and still be true to themselves? While the bulk of the film emphasises this conflict, the climax suggests a renewed brightness for the relationship between daughter and father. This important film ultimately promotes freedom of the self, encouraging truth, no matter how painful. Though it may be a turbulent rode to acceptance, if A Perfectly Normal Family says anything, it’s that the bonds of human affection are not broken by a simple change in gender.


A Perfectly Normal Family is a triumph in personal filmmaking, and an important film that offers an accepting hand to those hiding from their true selves. It’s not, however, unrealistic about the situation it portrays, and crucially presents the effect on the familial zeitgeist in tender detail. However, its powerful climax ends on a note of optimism, that (cheesy as it may be), love will conquer adversity.


#NathanialEker #IFFR #IFFR2020