How I Killed My Father
In the beginning of director/co-writer Anne Fontaine's How I Killed My Father, Charles Berling, a doctor to the wealthiest in the French seat of wealth that is Versailles, hears that his father Michel Bouquet died weeks earlier in Africa. This leaves him with a greater sense of unfinished business than such news would leave most people. A drifter, if not an outright con, Bouquet barely brushed against Berling's life before absenting himself from it, keeping in touch sporadically if at all. The shock seems not to have worn off by the time a feast is held in Berling's honor. News of his death having apparently been greatly exaggerated, Bouquet makes a surprise appearance at the gathering, then moves into the well-appointed house Berling shares with wife Natacha Régnier. Berling's brother compares their father to a "disguised priest," and the description holds water. Bouquet's face has all the marks of paternal kindliness, but his actions suggest a constant judgment of those around him, from the way he quietly dismisses the contemporary paintings that adorn Berling and Régnier's walls, to his comments on Berling's service to the rich, to the careful attention he pays to Régnier when Berling is away. Bouquet's long absence seems not to have dulled his capacity for disappointment. Both title and plot suggest a basic Freudianism, which the film returns to repeatedly, but How I Killed My Father stays sharp by offering sophisticated variations on the anxieties of fatherhood and filial expectations. Fontaine gives her film the tone of a psychological thriller, with the potential of violence always lurking beneath the surface, even if there's ultimately nothing more sinister at work than the everyday machinations involved in what Berling calls "playing happy families." With a father like Bouquet, who explores every subtle fold of his character in a rich performance, the stakes of the game always remain high.