An octogenarian upsets the balance among his own flesh-and-blood by agreeing to shelter a family of illegal immigrants — and that’s just the beginning of the social-issue quagmire director Anne Le Ny’s navigates in her relevant yet not especially revealing comedy “My Father’s Guests.” A modest performer in its native France, where it opened March 30, pic re-airs some of the concerns of “Welcome” (sheltering strangers) and “Summer Hours” (inheritance issues, the changing face of the modern family and paternal rights) without the same upscale appeal to international arthouse auds.
Fabrice Luchini and Karin Viard, who previously shared the screen in hit ensembler “Paris,” play grown siblings whose initial bemusement at activist father Lucien’s (Michel Aumont) plans to harbor refugees turns sour with each new surprise: Rather than taking in the sort of unwashed and unwanted immigrants they expected, Lucien introduces Moldovan bombshell Tatiana (Veronica Novak) and her bright young daughter, Sorina (Emma Siniavski). As his biological family soon discovers, Lucien’s superficially noble act is little more than a late-life sexual fling, with the old widower treating curvaceous but otherwise low-class Tatiana as a sort of mail-order bride.
At first, Arnaud (Luchini) and Babette (Viard) attempt to be progressive about the situation — itself a satire of certain “live and let live” tendencies toward immigration problems in France — until Lucien crosses the line by disinheriting his children in favor of the family’s needier new addition. Only then, when the situation impacts them directly, do the two resort to legal action.
Written by thesp-turned-helmer Le Ny and TV scribe Luc Beraud, pic could have played the mounting affronts as a social thriller (after all, Tatiana is tasked with caring for Lucien, and at one point, the old codger ends up in the hospital due to a mix-up with his pills), but it opts for a gentler sitcom-style treatment. Much of the amusement stems from how Lucien’s behavior upsets his children’s well-ordered lives — as when Babette gets drunk, seduces a co-worker and gets hit on by swingers in public — sharing the same observational gift evident in Le Ny’s”Those Who Remain” (about a charming romance predicated on an awkward secret) without the same emotional payoff.
What positive things crix and auds have to say about “My Father’s Guests” will likely be made in contrast with the hypothetical “Hollywood treatment” of such material. In truth, the American studio style would be better suited to the pic’s odd balance of broad comedy and topical concerns (a not-entirely-different dynamic is explored to much better effect each week on “Modern Family” through patriarch Ed O’Neill’s remarriage to Colombian bombshell Sofia Vergara).
As it is, the “Pretty Woman”-style raised-eyebrow reactions to Tatiana’s fish-out-of-water faux pas — as well as the overall technical approach — suggest Le Ny’s heavy debt to Hollywood.