«A Death in the Family» (2019)

(a portrait of James Agee)

The film is a biographical portrait of James Agee, a major American writer who was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1909, and who died in New York in 1955.

 

Agee’s existence was shattered at the age of six by the death of his father, who died in a car accident. In his autobiographical novel «A Death in the Family» Agee tells the story of this death, which affected his existence forever, a tragedy he suffered from his entire life.

 

In the film, an actress-filmmaker investigates the life of Agee while she prepares a fiction film based on his novel. She visits the places of the writer’s childhood, which are identical to those referred to in his book. To learn about who James Agee was, what his destiny was, what the “ innermost truth” of the man and writer was is to return, through the reading of his novel, to the past, to retrace the childhood magnificently recounted in his great book, focusing on the tragic death of a father.

 

The actress-filmmaker looks for and engages actors and actresses to rehearse passages of the book with them; this constitute the core of the film. The actors play, in front of her eyes, directed by her, the novel’s key scenes recounting the accident and death of the father and how his wife, the writer’s mother, learns about and reacts to this death and how she makes her children understand the terrible tragedy that has beset them.

The scenes of the book rehearsed by the actors and actresses are interspersed with the inquiries the actress-filmmaker makes into the writer’s life: his difficult relationship with his mother, the Episcopalian middle school, Harvard University, and how in New York, Agee became a journalist, then film critic, then film script writer in Hollywood where he became friends with John Huston and Charlie Chaplin, and how he wrote his autobiographical novel, published two years after his death.