How I Killed My Father

2000, Movie, NR, 100 mins

Review

HOW I KILLED MY FATHER | COMMENT J'AI TUE MON PERE
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While hardly the thriller the title implies — the killing here is strictly figurative — Anne Fontaine's beautifully acted drama is nevertheless a thrill to watch. As in her 1997 film DRY CLEANING, the action centers on a carefully constructed life unsettled by the arrival of an interloper. Jean-Luc Borde (Charles Berling) is only 40 years old, but seems to have everything an ambitious gerontologist could desire: a thriving medical practice, which he runs out of a luxurious clinic in the tony Parisian suburb of Versailles; a stately home; a beautiful wife, Isa (Natacha Regnier), as elegant as she is understanding; and a faithful assistant (Amira Casar) who's also his mistress. Jean-Luc has even been awarded the Order of Merit for his tireless efforts in helping the very rich ease gracefully into old age, and it's during a lavish party celebrating this event that a figure from Jean-Luc's past makes an appearance: his 70-year-old father, Maurice (Michel Bouquet), a doctor who one day walked away from family and never returned. Maurice has been running a medical lab in Africa, but recent political upheavals have forced him out of the country; he's landed in Versailles, slightly rumpled, entirely broke and in need of a place to stay. Charmed by his gentle manner, Isa insists he take the attic room, but Jean-Luc is less welcoming; when he looks into Maurice's eyes he sees only the ice-cold judgement of the father who rejected him, his mother and his younger brother, Patrick (Stephane Guillon), a struggling actor who works for Jean-Luc as a driver. Isa is completely taken with the old man, who shows her the kind of attention her husband won't, and she begins spending her days and evenings in his company. Angry, hurt and jealous of both his wife and his father, Jean-Luc takes every opportunity to humiliate the impoverished Maurice, who was busy bringing health care to the Third World while his son was getting rich administering Botox injections to society matrons. Tensions rise and the climactic confrontation is as terrible as it is inevitable, but it's followed by an unusual reconciliation between Jean-Luc and the prodigal father who felt himself under no obligation to love his son. Fontaine's thoughtful, character-driven screenplay (co-written with Jacques Fieschi), is the perfect vehicle for Berling and Bouquet, and both are superb. As father and son, they play off each another in fascinating ways as the film moves towards its perfectly modulated, intriguingly ambiguous final moment. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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