The rigor and dedication required to excel as a classical musician are explored with a sure hand in “My Children Are Different.” Subtle, splendidly cast tale interweaves the demands of talent, the tribulations of parenthood and the heady flush of first love into an open-ended yet narratively satisfying slice of life. Melancholy but never dour, fourth feature by writer-director Denis Dercourt — whose day job is teaching at Strasbourg’s Music Conservatory — finds universal resonance in a frighteningly specific social sphere. Local prospects look tuneful, with offshore harmonies a possibility.
Widower Jean Debart (Richard Berry), a cellist in an orchestra, is a stern taskmaster to his two musically gifted children, cellist Adele (Elodie Peudepiece), who’s in her late teens, and piano prodigy Alexandre (Frederic Roullier), who’s only 11 and preternaturally serious. Their late mother, a successful soloist, was the daughter of demanding and imperious conductor Erhardt (vet Maurice Garrel, effortlessly authoritative). Erhardt heaps scorn on his son-in-law and has little respect for his own son, Gerald (Mathieu Amalric), a musician and conductor who deigns to record background music for commercials.
Alex, who barely gets fresh air except on expeditions with his Uncle Gerald to record bird sounds, is firmly under his father’s tutelage. But Adele, whose audition for a conservatory is approaching, is growing restless and rebellious. When she falls for a young accompanist, Thomas (Malik Zidi), her relationship with her father and brother is stretched to the limit.
Pic delves into the psychology of excellence. Helmer Dercourt has a gift for tackling deep themes without getting bogged down in obscure or pretentious byways; his characters may seem frosty to some but they’re flawed, alive and convincing.
While “Children” doesn’t tug on the heartstrings in the same way as Chen Kaige’s recent “Together,” both pics explore the sacrifices young musical talents and their fathers must weigh against the presumed rewards of a more “normal” life.
It’s good to see Berry, as the father, back in a meaty part after recent roles in crude comedies. As his daughter, coltish newcomer Peudepiece is slightly tentative in dramatic exchanges, but more than convinces when she picks up her instrument.
Selection of classical pieces is musically delightful and dramatically apt.
The visual charms of Strasbourg are nicely incorporated into the sober tale, whose heavy emotions are offset by mostly bright and airy lensing.