Acclaimed London artist and designer Yolanda Sonnabend is obliged to share the grand family home she’s made so flamboyantly her own with her scientist brother in this new doco from This Way of Life director Thomas Burstyn.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
Q+A with Sumner Burstyn at screenings on 24, 29 and 30 July.
Yolanda Sonnabend has been a well-known portrait painter and stellar designer for Britain’s Royal Ballet. Ballet aside, the work of art most enticingly displayed in this documentary is her home, the last un-renovated house in an ultra-expensive London suburb, which she has arrayed like an enchanted gallery with a lifetime’s collection of paintings and found objects. As she’s in the early stages of dementia, her long estranged older brother, Dr Joseph Sonnabend, a hero of AIDS research, has moved in to take care of her. The man of science could not be less enchanted by Yolanda or her chaos, and there’s more than a hint of Grey Gardens about their bravura carping and Yolanda’s grandeur under siege.
Their step-nephew Thomas Burstyn, director of a very different family portrait in This Way of Life, filmed them on several visits over a number of years. He interweaves Yolanda and Joseph’s past and present with qualms about his own current family responsibilities. And thanks to Joseph’s point-blank denunciations of the ethical laxness of both the portrait artists lurking under his roof, he is prompted to own up to his responsibilities as a filmmaker too.