The murder is metaphorical in Anne Fontaine’s exquisite French character study How I Killed My Father, but it’s still shocking in the quietest, most well-mannered of ways. Maurice (Michel Bouquet), a doctor who walked out on his family long ago, shows up unexpectedly at the grand, bourgeois home of his older son, Jean-Luc (Charles Berling), himself now a successful gerontologist married to a regal-looking trophy wife (Natacha Régnier). Maurice hasn’t changed — and that’s the point: Jean-Luc and his brother (Stephane Guillon) can no longer pretend or fantasize otherwise.
The old man, who never expressed any warmth toward his sons, remains unthawable. ”I’m not obliged to love you,” he says, his eyes glittering coldly with an infuriating lack of passion. But in Jean-Luc’s loveless home, the father sees the effects of his icy core. And the middle-aged son, who has tried to manage rage and grief by replicating distance in his own family, finally dares to admit the desire to kill.
Hate and love being linked in family literature since Cain and Abel, therapists might say that the two make progress; ”How I Killed My Father” is Freud-driven. But as in her 1997 film ”Dry Cleaning,” the filmmaker doesn’t resort to easy telegraphy. The script is a steady accretion of small stabs to the heart, propelling the gorgeous performances of Berling, Regnier, and especially the 76-year-old French cinema veteran Bouquet, whose every faint smile is killing.