Jean-Luc, a highly successful doctor, thinks that he has forgotten his father, Maurice; a father who left so long ago and who has been in touch so rarely, it's as if memory - or resentment - were a waste of time. But all of a sudden, Maurice reappears from his long exile and, without any apparent misgivings, he tries to re-enter his children's lives.
Cool, subtle psychological drama is a French speciality, and Anne Fontaine's Comment J'ai Tue Mon Pere ("How I Killed My Father") is an ultra-classy specimen of the genre. A study in the way emotional paralysis gets passed on from one generation to the next, it often recalls Philip Larkin's famous lines, "They fuck you up, your mum and dad; they may not mean to, but they do."
Jean-Luc, a wealthy gerontologist to the ageing rich of Versailles (that's the town, rather than the ex-royal palace) gets a letter from Africa telling him his father's dead. Since his parent walked out on him and his brother when they were little, he's not too shattered by the news. But next thing he knows, the old boy has shown up and invited himself in for an indefinite stay. And under his blandly disruptive gaze, all the hidden faultlines in Jean-Luc's life--in his marriage, his relationships with his mistress and his failed-actor younger brother--start cracking wide open.
Fontaine's film has points in common with Nanni Moretti's masterly The Son's Room, which also showed a professional man's seemingly flawless life crumbling under unforeseen family stresses. But befitting its Italian setting, that was a far warmer and less inhibited set-up. As Jean-Luc, Charles Berling's ice-blue eyes and chiselled good looks seem frozen in a mask of tight repression, and he's superbly matched by veteran actor Michel Bouquet as Maurice, his manipulative father. Both actors, and Stéphane Guillon as Jean-Luc's brother, are impeccably cast and it's easy to believe these three are closely related.
The stiffly formal architecture of Versailles makes an ideal backdrop, and there's a quietly ominous score from British composer Jocelyn Pook, who also scored Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Ultimately Fontaine tantalisingly leaves us guessing whether Maurice really does return, or whether he's a ghost conjured! up from his son's guilt-ridden subconscious.
On the DVD: How I Killed My Father on disc offers nothing but the theatrical trailer; a missed opportunity given that Fontaine, whose fifth feature this is, is little-known outside France. The transfer is full-screen; visual and sound quality is flawless. --Philip Kemp
This film was very hard to like. I didn't find the idea of a father coming back in later life convincing or engaging. Read morePublished on 19 Jun. 2010 by William Cohen
I guess fatherhood can be bizarre, with the emotions running riot the first few days, and the worry that you might think "I'm not going to like this baby", which sometimes makes... Read morePublished on 21 April 2009 by DL Productions UK