Shot in Trzcianka Lubuska, the film offers a touching observation of a foster family. The house of Mr and Mrs Helak is a home for fourteen children. As we learn from the narration provided by Mrs Helak, they were adopted either as orphans or because they were neglected by their parents.
After opening with a family meal, the camera surfs through crowded rooms of the house to illustrate Mrs Helak’s feelings and reflections. The documentary is primarily her story of daily joys and worries, as she takes care of boys and girls who aren’t always the best-behaved children.
Living on the stipends each of the children receives from the government, she manages the household 24 hours a day to make her kids comfortable. The crowded, shared bedrooms each accommodate several peacefully sleeping, happy children. Despite the austere living conditions where shortages of money for clothing and school expenses are one of the major concerns, Helak’s home is full of warmth.
Not only does Halladin champion the woman’s affection for the little ones, but also her ability to discipline them when needed. While the father actively participates in all activities, helping the kids with homework and keeping them busy with gardening, it’s common knowledge that the efficient mother is the decision maker in this domestic space. For example, when children get low marks at school, the father waits for her to talk to them.
As the more vocal of the couple, Mrs Helak guides the viewer through the story, commenting on observational shots and offering a bit of the family background. She has been a foster mother from the mid-1950s but at the beginning some of her beloved children returned home after a short stay with Helaks. Old family photos show her previous kids. Soon we learn that after having her heart broken because of separation from little Jacuś, she gave up on temporary fostering and decided to adopt all of her kids.
The story of Mrs Helak’s busy life closes with a celebration of her name day. She receives a vinyl record from the kids. When she plays it, tears start running down her cheeks. The recording is a greeting card, which talks about the love and appreciation the kids have for her. Emotional and satisfied, she hugs her children, happy with her performance in the role of the gentle, attentive and capable matriarch.
The Family is available on DVD with English subtitles.