Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: Charm Circle

The filmmaker with a picture of her parents

As the sayings go, blood is thicker than water and you can choose your friends but not your family. Whilst we might consider ourselves to be enlightened and evolved creatures, in many ways our traditional household structures mimic the animal kingdom and early humans. The units we create and the roles we assign aren’t too far removed from our cave dwelling ancestors. We band together for security, safety, nurture and much more.

When things go wrong, and sometimes they go very wrong, these broods can be abusive, exploitative and traumatic places. Sometimes, families can simply be dysfunctional and troubled. This is the case for filmmaker Nira Burstein who uncovered a treasure trove of home movies and wondered where it all went wrong. In Charm Circle, she returns to her now crumbling childhood home in New York in an attempt to try and reconnect with her parents.

Charm Circle is an intimate, humorous and offbeat portrait of a dysfunctional family on the edge of collapsing. They’re an unusual bunch and it’s clear that her childhood was far from ideal but there’s a connection there which remains, however damaged. It’s an unflinching portrait, often focusing on her father Uri, and for good or ill he’s never short of entertaining. Six years in the making, Charm Circle is an enthralling and distinctly personal study into the nature of family.

Charm Circle screens at Sheffield Doc/Fest.

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