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With: Charles Berling, Michel Bouquet, Natacha Régnier
Written by: Anne Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi
Directed by: Anne Fontaine
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 08/08/2001

How I Killed My Father (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Death by Boredom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

How I Killed My Father is one of those art house films that makes you feel like you're watching an iceberg melt -- only it never melts. It stays frustratingly the same hour after hour. The action (such as it is) begins when Jean-Luc (Charles Berling) receives word that his father -- who walked out of his life years ago -- is dead. Jean-Luc is a "gerontologist," a guy who basically tries to stave off the effects of old age for people who can afford to pay for it. He comes complete with a lovely trophy wife named Isa (Natacha Regnier) who can barely manage to look conscious at various functions. Of course, Jean-Luc's father, Maurice (Michel Bouquet), is not really dead, and he turns up at an awkward moment during one of said functions. Low on cash, he comes to stay with Jean-Luc and Isa for a while.

The film tries to build conflict by showing Jean-Luc stalking around, constantly angry at his father. Isa and Maurice build a little friendship by going out for walks and visiting museums, which only infuriates Jean-Luc more. In addition, Jean-Luc has a brother named Patrick (Stephane Guillon) who works as an actor, performing pretentious monologues at a local bar about how his daddy didn't love him. The only emotion the movie manages to drum up is most everyone's hatred for Maurice. But despite the fact that he's rather cold and brittle and speaks entirely in platitudes, we eventually learn what Isa learns -- that he's the most appealing person in the film. And yet we're asked to hate him as much the two brothers do.

The dialogue has that metallic ring that turned up when Woody Allen tried to emulate the English subtitles on Bergman films for his 1978 film Interiors. In How I Killed My Father the chatter sounds like it was translated from Swedish to English to French and back to English again. The filmmakers seem to be winking at us, however, completely aware of how vapid and horrid their characters are. Why else would they give Jean-Luc such a selfish and shallow occupation? But we in the audience have to suffer through the reality of the situation -- that these characters are vapid and horrid. I imagine that director Anne Fontaine probably thought she was attempting some form of satire or black comedy, but it registers as absolutely motionless -- like a bad statue.

Of course, as the title tells us, poor Maurice eventually dies. As veteran actor Michel Bouquet had worked many times with Chaude Chabrol (La Femme Infidele) and on Francois Truffaut's darkest films, The Bride Wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid, I hoped the movie would at least do something interesting with this idea -- maybe an ironic, metaphoric "death." But no, in this film death is just as pallid and boring as life is.

Best Buy Co, Inc.