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After a happily tranquil holiday season, France begins the cinema year with a light comedy with only a slightly serious subtext. Emile Gaudroult’s Père Fils Thérapie (literally Father Son Therapy) is a family relationship feel-good, parody of macho therapy excursions into the wild, and police drama to boot. The film balances all of these successfully, but frenetically, changing registers as if by remote in the hands of a restless teenager.
The plot centers on father and son cops Jacques and Marc Laroche (whose mother was African, which fact isn’t made much of). The two have a visceral dislike for one another—the elder flic (played by Richad Berry) is a tough guy who can’t abide his marksman son’s inability to pull the trigger in real-life situations. The son (Waly Dia) thinks of his father as a reactionary Neanderthal at best. It’s Archie and the Meathead à la française, (and in uniform). After being stationed a good distance apart (to the satisfaction of both), an improbable case throws them back together.
Another policeman is being held hostage by a Marseilles underworld kingpin. One person who may know his whereabouts is the gangster lawyer (Jacques Gamblin) representing the druglord. It just so happens that the lawyer’s wife has foisted a therapeutic trip on him and his son, to salvage their loathe-hate relationship. Who better than Jacques and Marc to infiltrate the group and try to establish a close relationship with the lawyer? They pose as realtors, but the hostile father-son part is authentic enough.
Ironically, the leader of the all-male seminar is a woman, Gilberte Ménard. Playing a kind of den mother, she hilariously combines the masculine activities, reminiscent of the poet Robert Bly’s outdoorsy rituals (eg mud wrestling) with sensitivity training (eg choosing a doll to represent one’s father or son—Jacques chooses a female Raggedy Ann to incarnate Marc). There are also bull sessions in which the sons diss their fathers and vice versa.
The director films the action in a competent, rather TV-like way. Sometimes he intersperses breathtaking shots of the beautiful setting (the Gorges de Verdon), which looks more like the American Rocky Mountains than France. Maybe it’s the same macho vibe—showing that the French have the same landscape cojones as the Americans. But I have the sneaking feeling that the director feared that his fall-back style would start to bore the viewer.
Indeed, the direction and story do begin to wear thin, but the film has the benefit of a talented ensemble cast. All are funny, though not many really stand out. Wali Dia makes a handsome leading man, and Baptiste Lorber does a good job as the sullen son of the lawyer. The funniest is Julie Ferrier, as the master of ceremonies Gilberte, who cheerleads, goads, and empathizes with her group in a send-up of human potential movements. It’s too bad we never get a sense of her as a person, and that the hint of romantic chemistry between her and Jacques is never developed.
The anchors of the film are the veteran actors Jacques Gamblin and Richard Berry. They bring genuine emotional heft to the comic ogres they play. Gamblin makes us feel the anguish of a lawyer who’s not only sold his soul, but has demons dating from long before. Berry expresses the befuddled rage of every authoritarian who sees the world in gross non-compliance with his principles. The idea may have been for these two to build a relationship that would be more interesting than the pretext of worming info for the police case. But with so much going on in the film, there’s little room for this, which makes it feel hollow at its core.
The director’s cure is to throw in yet another element: The infiltration of the therapy group by two criminals, perhaps to keep an eye on the lawyer. This does perk up the audience’s interest, and builds to a satisfying climax. That climax is violent, but in a prehistoric un-bloody way, not with the sick humor that’s become the norm in European movies as well as Hollywood.
It’s all very feel-goody, but with the subtext mentioned earlier. The director draws a fault line, if not a pre-‘68 gap, between the generations. The racial dimension evokes the new world of mixité, which doesn’t always sit comfortably with la vielle France. And the reconciliation reached in the film is stark: the policeman’s son finally learns to get his man.
Production: Edouard de Vesinne/Incognita Films
Distribution: UGC Distribution
Lead photo credit : © Père Fils Thérapie, 2016, Emile Gaudreault