By Fabien Ara | Drama
A mother reveals plans to kill herself during a family dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

A family has gathered for dinner at a chic Chinese restaurant. Their genial night out, though, is interrupted when the mother has an announcement: she’s going to kill herself that night.

The family takes in this shocking pronouncement and news, destabilizing any pretense of equanimity and civility. (Even the senile grandmother seems affected by what’s unraveling.) The resulting freakout uncovers a whole series of secrets, resentments and unspoken truths lingering under the surface.

The “fraught family dinner” is a familiar trope of many short dramas, and rightfully so: the structure brings together a gamut of conflicting personalities, agendas and needs and creates a powder-keg of an emotional situation that often makes for great writing and performances. This short — written and directed by Fabien Ara with great assurance — takes on this familiar narrative terrain, but applies a sharp, stylish gloss on it, making for a showcase of barbed wit and consistently engaging energy.

The film’s look and feel is the first clue that this is no ordinary family drama, with darkly gleaming, almost sinister cinematography and elegant camera movements and framing. But as the family settles into their meal and the action unfolds, the film language emphasizes tight close-ups on each member’s face, balanced by clever, fast-paced editing that derives sardonic humor from perfectly timed reaction shots to the increasingly outlandish emotions.

Viewers get a sense of the complicated dynamics between a domineering mother, a passive father and their two competitive daughters, developed through tightly paced and sharp writing. The great accomplishment, however, is the collective strength of a cast — led by actor Marie Boissard as the lofty, formidable mother — whose performances perfectly balance the line between the real shock and devastation of the news and the dark, stylized humor that comes from each member’s unique but self-absorbed reaction. All the actors are terrific and utterly committed to difficult characters and moments that unfurl to the equivalent of an emotional bloodbath.

“Clac” is supremely accomplished in its writing, performance, and craft, with each beat perfectly timed and injecting just the right pique of humor when the characters are at their worst. Many family dramas default to warm, fuzzy emotions and affirm the lovability of the family unit in the end. But the unique vision of “Clac” commits to the idea that moments of crisis can bring out the dysfunction hidden underneath facades of codependency and denial in a family. It does so with great style and verve, ending with a perfectly calibrated image of chaos and pathos that is both ridiculously funny and sublimely sad — a pair of qualities that could describe many family occasions, perhaps.

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