Family Law

2006 [SPANISH]

Comedy / Drama

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 73%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 70%
IMDb Rating 6.8 10 1497

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Chris Knipp 8 / 10

A light touch that will elude some

Here's the best antidote for Borat, a feather-light comedy about families pervaded by good taste, good manners, and mutual understanding.

Family Law (Derecho de familia) is an Argentinean film centered on an impeccable young man with a certain reserve. He sleeps in his suit – or so his wife, Sandra (Julieta Díaz) puts it. Actually he's in his shirt and tie by then. This is Ariel Perelman, or Perelman Junior (Daniel Hendler). When his son, Gastón (Eloy Burman), has a show at his kindergarten, which is Swiss but rather off-puttingly touchy-feely and New Age for his taste, Perelman promises to do the costumes, and he does. He dresses all the children in little dark suits and ties.

This is a film that establishes its world most ably, and focuses on helping us understand how that world works. To formulate the guiding point of view, there is Junior's voice-over.

Perelman is comfortable in his life, doing things his own way. (The film teaches us to be comfortable with him too.) He courts his future wife, who's a Pilates instructor in Buenos Aires, by having her instruct him. His father Bernardo, or Perelman Senior (Arturo Goetz), is a trial lawyer who keeps a professional witness on call, while Perelman Junior, who lectures on the law, has an associate "interrupt" his lectures to make points. Perelman Junior is on a state salary, while his more prepossessing father is a well known barrister. When reconstruction of the building gives Junior a couple of months off, he doesn't tell his wife; but he does spend more time with little Gastón when Sandra goes to Machu Pichu for a Pilates conference, her first time away since the birth of the little boy. (Junior's somewhat exploratory free-floating status resembles that of the main character in the Chilean Alicia Scherson's terrific movie, Play, who also is having time off work but says nothing about it.)

Junior and his wife are a typical Argentinean Jewish-Catholic couple he says. It's not a big deal. But maybe that's the film's greatest accomplishment, again with a light touch: this unceremonious installation of Jewishness in a Latin American setting.

Perelman Senior is more outgoing than his son, a man of the old school, charming, known by everybody, an individual of regular routines who has coffee and a croissant before he talks to anybody, and meets with clients in restaurants so they'll be more relaxed. He's on a retainer to some clients, such as an Italian restaurateur always in trouble with the Health Department. And he's a widower with a secretary of a certain age (Adriana Aizemberg) to whom he is close. Perelman Senior has a secret, and at the end we find out what it is.

Meanwhile, Perelman Senior has a birthday. Everyone seems to know about it but Perelman Junior. One of his father's cronies sees that the son doesn't embarrass himself. The men grow a bit closer, but Perelman Junior doesn't understand why. For all his distance and his reserve, he's charming with little Gastón (also a charmer), and his intimate moments with Sandra feel perfectly right. Burman is wonderful at avoiding clichés and sentimentality, while talking about the sort of things that attract those defects.

Family Law is about the basic things, families, generations, lifestyles, attitudes. Director Daniel Burman is uniquely benign and his humor is of the most gentle, ironic, subtle kind.The sensibility is suavely European – western European, perhaps Mediterranean (and perhaps typically Argentinean Jewish-Catholic). It may be making gentle fun of the Argentinean preoccupation with appearances. Like good Italians – and Italian influence in the country, I hear, is not negligible – the people in Family Law avoid "facendo brutta figura" (looking bad) like the plague. This film is quietly life affirming. It's well made and intelligent. But it may not make a very deep impression on those used to stronger stuff.

Indeed, it's better not to talk too much about what happens in Family Law, because its little surprises are all it has. It'll lower your blood pressure, in a good way. Those who prefer to be hit over the head with blunt messages will prefer Borat and declare this a namby-pamby flop.

Family Law is Argentina's Best Foreign contender in this year's Oscar competition. (Kazakhstan doesn't have an entry.)

Reviewed by jpschapira 8 / 10

Burman again...

In many ways, "Derecho de familia" can be considered as the highest point in Daniel Burman's filmography; it's very different from his previous efforts. Thematically, it leaves aside the Jewish feelings of "El abrazo partido" and "Esperando al mesías", which constructed most of the humor from the religion; visually, it shows the beginning of a more experimental phase that would culminate with "El nido vacío".

That the film doesn't revolve around Judaism-even when its main character is Jewish-, is an advantage to see Burman exploring relationships as they are and free of stereotypes. The movie begins with a narration by Ariel (yes, again) Perelman, a lawyer. It's one of those narrations that continue to appear throughout the film and never seem intrusive; a perfectly displayed element that you wouldn't if it were used all the time.

Ariel, played by Daniel Hendler (yes, again), tells us about his father Perelman Sr. (a great Arturo Goetz), also a lawyer; and his, when we meet her, future wife Sandra (a brilliant Julieta Diaz). Again here, as we are used to with Burman, there's no more defined story than a father/son relationshio; we just see life as it is. As we become familiar with this family and their daily routine, we start sensing Burman's presence differently. There are doors that open and lead to somewhere other than the expected place, like if the characters refuse to see the real location; connection between scenes and repetitions of some frames. Cinematographer Ramiro Civita (from "Whisky Romeo Zulu") takes it so seriously that we feel a change.

It's very strange that Civita didn't work again with the director in "El nido vacío", which really seems to present a continuity of the visual style in this film. But what about the humor in "Derecho de Familia"? Don't forget that Burman is also a gifted writer and-I repeat it proudly-he manages to stand far away from the religious scenarios and traditions that made us laugh unexpectedly in previous pieces. Here, we laugh because of the mere personality of the characters, because of what they say in a masterfully shot lunch conversation and because there's a little kid named Gastón (played by Burman's son) that wins everyone's heart.

The pallet of characters Burman presents here is richer than ever and it's wonderful to listen to Ariel telling us how he won Sandra's heart, because we could never imagine them together. Actually, we could never imagine Ariel with someone, just like two of his students tell him more directly than indirectly when they see him in a bar with his son.

Anyone who says Daniel Hendler always does the same thing is being completely unfair. Yes, he has a preference for introverted roles, but his Ariel here has nothing to do with his Ariel of "El abrazo partido", or with his Ezequiel of "El fondo del mar" for that matter. However, it's true that Hendler has difficulties when it comes to chemistry with female co-protagonists. This is why Julieta Díaz' performance succeeds on its own, as Hendler's; because they are fantastic actors.

There's drama too in "Derecho de Familia", as we could expect from Burman, but this time it represents the weaker part of the whole. You see, one of the great qualities of Burman as a director is that he works hard to achieve the balance between what everyone will definitely like and a few risks. The price to pay is that some things become predictable.

Luckily, nothing ever ceases to be believable.

Reviewed by druid333-2 4 / 10

A Life Most Banal

David Burman's 'Derecho De Familia' (or Family Law,as it is being distributed in English speaking countries)is a tale of a young man who has become something of a mirror image of his father,another lawyer. The only difference is that Perelman,Jr.teaches law at the local university (never named),while his father,Perelman,Sr. practices law. Both share an office in a building that has seen better days (and is currently being refurbished,due to a cave in of one of the upper floors,leaving both generations of Perelman's out of work). Perelman Jr. has to try & fake the fact that he is out of work,and makes up any excuse to cover up. His wife is something of a "new age" trainer in Pilates (?). All of this (and more)make for a (so called)comedy that never really goes anywhere (but does try like the dickens to mimic one of those French family based films). David Burman writes & directs this mostly unfunny attempts at a comedy on family values that is obviously influenced by the late,great Francois Truffaut,but falls flat. The cast includes,Daniel Hendler,Julieta Diaz,Arturo Goetz,Eloy Burman & Luis Albornoz. Spoken in Spanish with English subtitles. Not rated by the MPAA,but contains some rude language,adult content & toilet humour.

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