Family Dinner (2022)

Family Dinner
Director: Peter Hengl
Writer: Peter Hengl, Onur Özcan
Cast: Nina Katlein, Pia Hierzegger, Michael Pink, Alexander Sladek
Seen on: 10.2.2023

Content Note: (critical treatment of?) fatmisia

Claudia (Pia Hierzegger) used to be married to Simi’s (Nina Katlein) uncle, but since they separated and Claudia moved to a remote farm in the countryside with her new partner Stefan (Michael Pink) and her son Filipp (Alexander Sladek), they haven’t seen each other anymore. Now Simi has invited herself to spend some time with Claudia. She is hoping that Claudia, who is a chef who has written a few books on healthy eating, can help her lose some weight. But things are strange at Claudia’s farm. Filipp is hostile and Claudia seems very reluctant to have Simi there at all. But Simi persists, though she can never shake the feeling that something is wrong.

Family Dinner is excellent at setting the mood. But the ending is a little too obvious to really work, so the film never really reaches a satisfying conclusion.

The film poster showing Simi (Nina Katlein) standing behind a table with a sliced rabbit on it, holding hands with two people out of frame.

If I am being very generous, I can read the film as a cautionary tale about the obsession with diet culture. Simi is so desperate to lose weight that she ignores every red flag in the situation and lets herself be drawn into things. That the film tries to pass off her determination as something that just comes from herself and nobody else, is a bit of a problem though. Her mother tells her repeatedly on the phone to just come home, and in one moment, Simi insists that she is the only one to make decisions about her body. But at the same time, she delivers herself completely into Claudia’s hands. And the general, structural marginalization fat people face is never mentioned.

If my generous take had been the story the film wanted to tell, I would have loved it – but it would have needed a different ending for that. As is, Simi’s fatness is just a way to make the film about food, and about fasting. Any criticism of fatmisia seems entirely incidental, and hinges mostly on Katlein’s performance. Fortunately, that performance is strong, so there is some space for that.

Claudia (Pia Hierzegger) serving dinner to Stefan (Michael Pink), Simi (Nina Katlein) and Filipp (Alexander Sladek).

Equally strong is Hierzegger who is cast against type a little and seems to relish the opportunity to play somebody like Claudia. The film is generally at its best when it just explores the family dynamics and shows how unsettling things are. Combined with the greige set and lighting that makes the farm house just the kind of stylish self-renovation project a privileged city family would work on in the middle of nowhere, the film really knows how to set the mood.

It’s just a pity that it doesn’t really go somewhere that really paid off. But for a debut feature, it definitely shows promise – so we’ll see what Hengl does next!

Claudia (Pia Hierzegger) standing behind Simi (Nina Katlein), holding her shoulders and smiling.

Summarizing: worth it for the creepy atmosphere but not for the ending.

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