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You can’t choose who your parents are — or can you?
In the sharp and funny French comedy Just to Be Sure (Otez-moi d’un doute), that question becomes the driving force behind two interconnected stories involving paternity and possible incest, as a widowed father discovers that his own dad may not be his biological one, while learning that his budding love interest may actually be his sister.
It all sounds like the recipe for either a really bad soap opera or something hatched from the mind of Lars von Trier, but in her third feature effort, writer-director Carine Tardieu (The Dandelions) turns such material into a charming tale of multiple quid pro quos that’s as light-hearted as its subject matter is deadly serious. Featuring an excellent cast lead by Francois Damiens and Cecile de France, this Directors’ Fortnight premiere could see sales in territories looking for this kind of oh-so-French fare.
Forty-something Erwan (Damiens) works as a bomb-disposal expert, clearing explosives and mines that have been buried in the Gallic soil since WWII. While such a job has its share of risks, Erwan’s personal life is much more of a minefield: His daughter Juliette (Alice de Lencquesaing) is pregnant, but doesn’t know — and doesn’t what to know — who the father is. Meanwhile, a DNA test reveals that Erwan’s own dad (Guy Marchand) is not who he says he is, sending his son off on a quest to find the real one.
After consulting a private detective (Brigitte Rouan), Erwan learns that his actual father, Joseph (Andre Wilms), lives only a few towns away. That’s pretty good news — except that Joseph is also the father of Anna (Cecile de France), a veterinarian Erwan crosses one night on a rainy country road and immediately falls in love with.
There are enough coincidences here to give Charles Dickens a run for his money, yet Tardieu manages to use them to her advantage, shaping a clever and meaningful story about characters forced to ask themselves some very important questions: Who are our true parents? Those who bred us or those who raised us? And do we have the right to choose between the two? At one point someone explains that “everyone has a father,” but the issue is whether or not we need to recognize them as such — whether we actually need them at all.
Casting Damiens (La Famille Belier) as the lead was another smart idea, because the Belgian comic has a way of underplaying his scenes that lends gravitas to what may often seem like ridiculous circumstances. The relationship between Erwan, who’s seeking his real dad, and Juliette, who wants to raise a baby without one, is particularly well developed, setting up a clash between the two that will have life-changing consequences.
De France is equally effective as a woman dedicated to her father — whether Joseph is her actual father also comes into play at one point — but incapable of building her own life. The scene where Anna tries to hit on Erwan without knowing he may be her brother is one of the film’s best, with the two stars revealing a knack for timing, as well as an ability to hint at more significant themes behind all the jokes. Another standout is mono-monikered actor Esteban, who plays Juliette’s friend (and another possible father candidate), and who looks either completely stoned or else like he’s several baguettes short of a baker’s dozen.
Handsomely shot by Pierre Cottereau (Come What May) and with a lively score by Eric Slabiak (who also composed the music for Tardieu’s well-received 2012 family dramedy The Dandelions), Just to Be Sure is the kind of intelligent and rather artful French comedy that doesn’t come around so often nowadays. Tardieu juggles lots of heavy issues with a supremely light touch, making us laugh about what would normally be a series of tragic events, underlining how much our parents — biological, adoptive or otherwise — can both make us and break us.
Production companies: Kare Productions, SND-Groupe M6, France 2 Cinema, Delante Films, uMedia
Cast: Francois Damiens, Cecile de France, Guy Marchand, Andre Wilms, Alice de Lencquesaing, Esteban
Director: Carine Tardieu
Screenwriters: Carine Tardieu, Raphaele Moussafir, Michel Leclerc
Producers: Antoine Rein, Fabrice Goldstein
Director of photography: Pierre Cottereau
Production designer: Jean-Marc Tran Tan Ba
Costume designer: Isabelle Pannetier
Editor: Christel Dewynter
Composer: Eric Slabiak
Casting director: Tatiana Vialle
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Sales: SND-Groupe M6
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