A deft, witty and emotionally rewarding study of a thirtysomething man in his roles as father and son, Daniel Burman's intensely personal "Family Law" completes his fatherhood trilogy. The second installment, "Lost Embrace," won the Silver Bear at Berlin in 2004. Again featuring an outstanding Daniel Hendler (best actor in 2004) and a script that fuses sharp observation with the intimacy of a lightly rewritten autobiography, pic effortlessly takes the viewer through a range of thoughts and moods. Fans of "Embrace" might lament the relative absence of social context this time, but pic's multiple merits should consolidate helmer's burgeoning offshore reputation.
A lengthy voiceover by lawyer-teacher Perelman (Hendler) describes the daily routine of his widowed lawyer father Perelman Sr. (Arturo Goetz). A portrait emerges of the father as a tough role model to follow. Norita (Adriana Aizanberg) is Perelman's faithful secretary, the only person with whom he is himself.
Son Perelman's classes are slightly chaotic affairs in which he works out his personal doubts in public. One of his students is pilates teacher Sandra (Julieta Diaz), whom the lecturer has decided he will marry. He starts taking pilates from her, but his big chance comes when she runs into a legal problem. Perelman wins the case, but doesn't tell Sandra that he was dependent on his father's advice.
When we next see Perelman and Sandra, they are married with a 2-year-old son, Gaston (Eloy Burman). Following a charmingly awkward sequence where he forgets his father's 65th birthday, pic focuses on Perelman's relations with his dad, who continually seems to be dropping hints to him that he fails to pick up. After Sandra heads off on a pilates retreat, the younger, and frightened, Perelman is left alone to look after Gaston.
There is nothing here that a thousand Jewish family comedy dramas haven't done before, but the difference is in the insistently understated treatment. As in "Embrace," the script works largely by omission and ellipsis, with the defining moments in Perelman's life -- including his wedding and the birth of Gaston -- not shown onscreen.
This principle extends into the dialogue: This is very much a pic about people not talking to one another and discovering the truth only when it's too late. Perfs are likewise heavy with meaningful facial expressions communicating never fully articulated thoughts: One long shot on protag's face toward the end speaks volumes.
To all intents and purposes, Hendler plays Perelman Jr. as "Embrace's" Ariel a few years down the line: a blank-faced, over controlled and selfish victim of circumstances. We never learn his first name -- even his wife and father, call him Perelman.
Other perfs are similarly trenchant, with Goetz as the gently-smiling father figure finding all the nuances in a potentially restrictive role. The boy Gaston is helmer Burman's real-life son, presumably playing his extremely cute self.
Dialogue's wit often sounds like overheard conversation.Treatment is fly-on-the-wall throughout, though lensing is happily less reliant on hand-held than it was in "Embrace." The delicate, piano-based score is similarly used discreetly to underline mood. Pic is thick with the flavors of Buenos Aires street life.
Camera (color), Ramiro Civita; editor, Alejandro Parysow; music, Cesar Lerner; art director, Maria Eugenia Sueiro; sound (Dolby Digital), Federico Billordo. Reviewed at Image Film, Madrid, Feb. 6, 2006. (In Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama.) Running time: 102 MIN.