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A Kid (La Fils de Jean)

at Filmhouse Cinema Edinburgh

* * * * -

Subtle and sensitive transatlantic family drama

Image of A Kid (La Fils de Jean)

Philippe Lioret/ France Canada/ 2016/ 98 mins

Part of the French Film Festival UK 2017

The latest from Philippe Lioret (Don’t Worry, I’m Fine, Welcome) is a quietly intricate and affecting family drama that sews conflicting French and Canadian elements together like a patchwork quilt, to leave the audience satisfied, and slightly warmer.

Mathieu (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a man whose life is characterised by absence.  He’s still firmly anchored to his world, yet has started to drift.  He’s separated from his wife, although they remain on good terms, and he sees his young son regularly.  His mother is eight years deceased and his ‘father’ isn’t his biological parent.  His world is rocked further when he’s informed his birth father Jean has died in Montreal, leaving two adult sons and a package for him.  He resolves to go to Quebec for the funeral and to meet the family he never knew he had.

On paper, A Kid (a terrible translation of the original title, although it does get across a certain appropriate ambiguity) seems like it will be a fraught affair, with a stranger dropped into a new, extreme situation.  The narrative set up is a little like Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm, although it’s soon apparent that A Kid operates on a far more delicate register.

Deladonchamps leads with soul, and his tentative acquaintance with Pierre (Gabriel Arcand), his father’s friend is beautifully played by both actors. Lioret films like an impressionist, involving you with a seemingly straightforward tale.  Allow yourself to step back however, and the details become sharper, highlighting clues that all is not as it seems.  If you guess where A Kid is heading, and most probably will; it adds an uncomfortable dramatic tension to Mathieu’s interaction with one character.

There are moments of revelation, which are no less powerful for their subtlety.  Indeed, Lioret deflects all danger of melodrama and sentimental indulgence with his approach.  The theme of absence is further explored by the reveal that Mathieu’s father is only presumed dead, and his body has not been recovered.  This adds extra richness to the story, throwing the grieving, brawling sons of Jean into the uncertainty that is gnawing at Mathieu and fuelling the tension that is bubbling between the brothers and their suspicion of this seemingly random newcomer.

A Kid hasn’t been a wide success since its release, which is a real shame as it is a superlative family drama.  It’s true there are moments of dewy-eyed sentiment, particularly at the conclusion, that run the risk of feeling misjudged.  However, the rest of the film is so expertly handled, that they feel earned, and don’t ruin the film in any way.