Over the course of his career, Werner Herzog has operated within the boundaries between fact and fiction, drama and documentary, in his own inimitable way. His latest film, Family Romance, LLC, is another prime example of just how effective and unique his style can be.
Ishii Yuichi runs the titular company, where a customer can hire a performer to pretend to be their parent, a paparazzo snapping them around town, or even to take the blame for their failings at work. Herzog wrote the script, but based it around Yuichi’s real-life experiences running the company and performing as an “actor of the everyday”, making it one of the most literal examples of a film ‘based on a true story’. There is no voiceover to signpost the truth, and the poetic use of slo-mo and score suggest a more dramatic, constructed narrative than you might typically find in a doc.
His choice of material feels a little reverent upon closer inspection, leaving out all but the softest criticisms of this burgeoning niche industry. Likewise the performers appear guiltless about their profession, implying the ends justify the means when it comes to satisfying customers.
The verité filming style exposes some weak performances within the cast, but also poses a serious concern to every style-over-substance filmmaker out there: the quality of performances are fixed no matter how you choose to shoot them. Ishii is intelligent and sensitive in the lead role without the assistance of complicated lighting and with blocking that’s no more sophisticated than simple masters and over-the-shoulder shots.
Herzog’s approach leaves us wondering whether we too have been hoodwinked by these master performers, but it’s hard to argue with the connection you see on screen between Yuichi and his ‘daughter’ Mahiro – the relationship which dominates the film. Herzog takes an unconventional route, but he manages to find emotional truth in this tender and funny story about modern relationships.
Family Romance, LLC is available to watch from 3 July via Modern Films.