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How I Killed My Father

Director: Anne Fontaine


Writer-director Anne Fontaine’s fifth and best film to date, How I Killed My Father is a classy metaphysical mystery thriller on her favourite subject of an outsider intruding on seemingly settled lives to reveal the dark undercurrents that are eating away at them. The intruder here is the father, Maurice (Michel Bouquet), a doctor who abandoned his bourgeois family many years ago to work in Africa. Missing and presumed dead, a smiling, self-confident Maurice suddenly reappears at a reception in honour of his son, Jean-Luc (Charles Berling), a successful and respected doctor living a comfortable existence with a trophy French wife (Natasha Regnier) and a Syrian mistress (Amira Casar) in beautiful Versailles. Disrupting the calm surface of this lifestyle, Maurice’s presence stirs up a whole series of repressed feelings in Jean-Luc and other family members..
The title may suggest some kind of hard-hitting family drama, but How I Killed My Father is highly stylised and ambiguous in the manner of Claude Chabrol’s great bourgeois thrillers of the ’60s and ’70s. As the film begins, Jean-Luc receives news of his father’s death, and Fontaine keeps us in suspense for some time about whether the main body of the narrative is a continuation of the present or a memory flashback. There’s also the possibility that Jean-Luc and the other characters may be projecting the dead father into their current lives, as they work out their feelings in the wake of the man’s death. It’s a tribute to Fontaine’s steely control over the material that her film can bear comparison with Chabrol’s best work. Reference to Chabrol is unavoidable anyway given the superb central performance by Michel Bouquet, who is best known for his expert portrayals of the archetypal bourgeois male being forced to confront his darker nature in such masterpieces as La femme infidele/The Unfaithful Wife (1969) and Juste avant la nuit/Just Before Nightfall (1971).
France-Spain, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 100 mins.

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