TLA Releasing // 2002 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 20th, 2004
"Come on, let's stop this...do you think this is normal? Let's stop now Paul. Let's stop now. We can't go on. We've too much baggage, too much anger." -- Leo
This drama/comedy/thriller/mess from France isn't sure what it wants to be. Although it certainly isn't a classic, it has enough interesting elements to appeal to patient fans of foreign films.
Leo Shepherd (Gérard Depardieu, City of Ghosts) is a French author who has just been awarded the Nobel prize for literature. However, his great skill as a writer was gained at the cost of his relationship with his children. His daughter Virginia (Sylvie Testud) manages some of his business affairs, but it's immediately obvious that she carries a lot of baggage. Leo's son Paul (Guillaume Depardieu) has not spoken to Leo for years, mostly because of the pain of an abusive childhood. When Paul learns that Leo has won the Nobel Prize, he decides that it's time to reunite with his father. A long car ride and a freak accident later, Paul decides to kidnap Leo and lets the world believe that he is dead, which sparks old wounds for each of these characters that could allow for some healing or else make things a whole lot worse.
Sometimes, movies just don't know what they want to be. A Loving Father certainly fits this description. Is it a comedy? A thriller? A family drama? I have a feeling that the director Jacob Berger would want to say that yes, it is all those things. Unfortunately, in trying to be all of those things at the same time, it doesn't succeed on any of these levels. It's simply not funny enough to be a comedy, but too irreverent to work as a drama.
So many of the elements of the film stick out and prevent it from working as a unified whole. There are several freakishly big coincidences that could only be plausible in a romantic comedy. Since so much of the story is about choices and decisions, sacrifices made for careers, and the damage family members cause each other, these coincidences rip the audience out of the narrative completely. It's a shame, too, because the tension and irony between the characters has the potential to be on par with American Beauty and The Ice Storm. The music is also somewhat distracting, one of those overblown orchestral scores that is generally reserved for Tim Burton movies and 17th century costume dramas. Questions of believability also arise during some events in the film. The whole kidnapping scenario is pretty half-assed, and there are several moments that Leo could easily leave but doesn't, evidently because it would ruin the script. The ending is odd, but somehow fitting.
Complaints aside, some other elements of A Loving Father work really well. The performances are all excellent, allowing us to gradually understand more and more about them as we observe both their actions and their memories. Gérard Depardieu is at his best here, as a character that we are never sure whether to admire, pity, or hate. Guillaume Depardieu does just as well, the pain of his childhood etched in his face. Sylvie Testud is almost as good, though she does get a little carried away at times. We get to see each of these characters at incredibly vulnerable moments, which makes their lives incredibly exposed. This exploration of the celebrity of authors is interesting, because Leo's name is one that everyone recognizes, but they would never be able to pick him out of a crowd. We rarely get to see the private lives of authors, even though we get to see the lives of actors and sports stars splashed across newspapers and magazines everywhere we go.
The cinematography is also remarkable. I have rarely seen such fluid cinematography, which weaves through the scenery, subtly allowing us to peek in at the lives of these characters. While the film itself isn't very consistent, A Loving Father is always a pleasure to watch.
TLA has done a decent job with the technical transfer of the disc. The video is in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is anamorphic. The quality of the image varies from scene to scene, but overall it's decent. A few scenes do show some edge enhancement, but the colors are reproduced accurately and the image has enough detail. The subtitles are burnt in, but they are always easy to read and grammatically well written. Sometimes during scene changes, the whole image jumps a little, which is disconcerting.
The audio is better than the video. It's a stereo track, but it has lots of separation, and the music (ridiculous or not) is mixed well with the dialogue and ambient noise. Stereo tracks are always a little disappointing after lots of exposure to good surround tracks, but this is about as good as a two-channel track can be.
There aren't really any extras, other than a couple of trailers for other films in the TLA International Film Festival series.
There are enough inconsistent elements that I can't really recommend A Loving Father for purchase. Still, fans of foreign films that value style over substance will not regret renting it. If things had come together just a bit better, I think this would have been a great little movie.
The cast is free to go, but Jacob Berger is sentenced to another year at film school. TLA is ordered to take a seminar on DVD extras.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated