"His Mother's Eyes" stars Catherine Deneuve and Geraldine Pailhas as an estranged mother and daughter.

Moms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be in “His Mother’s Eyes,” from Gallic helmer Thierry Klifa. This follow-up to “Family Hero” is another multi-character meller, with “Hero” stars Catherine Deneuve and Geraldine Pailhas here playing an estranged mother and daughter. Their connection (or lack thereof) is not the only difficult mother-offspring relationship portrayed, though the screenplay, peppered with nods to Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” initially struggles to pull this overarching theme into focus. Local March 23 opening was soft, but the marquee-value cast should help sell this in ancillary and abroad.

Like “Family Hero,” pic opens with the passing of an old man, which is used as an excuse to introduce his extended family. Two women are present at the deathbed of respected Spanish journo Miguel Canales (Jean-Claude Moreau): his thirtysomething ballerina daughter, Maria (Pailhas), and Maria’s grandmother, Judit (Marisa Paredes). Notably absent is Maria’s mother and Miguel’s ex-wife, Lena (Deneuve), a famous, hard-working French news anchor who hasn’t spoken to the other two women in years.

Helping to unearth the dirt on this large family full of secrets — for the aud’s gain as well as his own — is muckraking writer Mathieu (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who has chosen the clan as the subject for another (hopefully bestselling) unauthorized biography published under a pseudonym. Mathieu manages to get himself hired as an assistant to Lena, whose days as a broadcast star are numbered, and also hooks up with Maria, who’s prepping a dance show in Paris and whom he once met 10 years earlier.

Early reels are something of a narrative mess, with the stories initially too unconnected to become immediately involving, and certain events, such as the death of Miguel, are so tangential that they never seem to impact any of the characters emotionally. Things finally come together, quite literally, an hour into the proceedings, in a neatly executed, five-minute montage sequence that juxtaposes a newscast, a boxing match and a dance performance, after which the film settles into a more straightforwardly plotted melodrama.

Deneuve convincingly limns another frigid career woman who’s not entirely without emotions; her expression at the end of her last moments on the air is a small, bravura piece of acting that would probably be lost on the smallscreen. Somewhat surprisingly, the other strong turn comes from newcomer Jean-Baptiste Lafarge, who displays not only real presence but also a gift for playing the complicated adolescent emotions of a young Breton who’s somewhat awkwardly shoehorned into the main plot. Rest of the ensemble is OK to fine.

Pic’s division between faraway Spain and France, where all characters finally meet, feels forced, as do the more explicit nods to “All About My Mother,” the most painfully obvious, besides Paredes’ casting, being a scene in which Deneuve drives away in a car in the pouring rain from her office, which is covered in an enormous headshot of herself.

Thankfully, tech contributions seem otherwise unaware of the Almodovar connection, with Gustavo Santaolalla’s typically spare, guitar-driven score and Julien Hirsch’s no-frills widescreen lensing veering closer to down-to-earth normality than to pastiche or melodramatic excess. HD projection caught did clearly show signs of distracting fiddling done in postproduction to soften the actresses’ faces, except for the haggard-looking Paredes, who, though actually younger than Deneuve, here plays someone a full generation older.

His Mother's Eyes

France

Production

A Mars Film Distribution release of an LGM Cinema presentation and production, in association with La Petite Reine, France Televisions, Tarantula, with participation of RTBF, Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: Kinology, Paris.) Produced by Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont. Directed by Thierry Klifa. Screenplay, Klifa, Christopher Thompson.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm-to-HD), Julien Hirsch; editor, Luc Barnier; music, Gustavo Santaolalla; production designer, Emmanuelle Duplay; costume designer, Catherine Leterrier; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Pascal James, Francis Wargnier, Thomas Gauder; choreography, Sylvain Groud; line producer, David Giordano; assistant director, Olivier Jacquet; casting, Sarah Teper, Leila Fournier. Reviewed at Cine Utopia, Luxembourg, April 3, 2011. (In City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival.) Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Catherine Deneuve, Geraldine Pailhas, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marina Fois, Marisa Paredes, Jean-Marc Barr, Jean-Baptiste Lafarge, Karole Rocher, Helene Fillieres, Gilles Cohen, Romain Goupil, Jean-Claude Moreau. (French, Spanish dialogue)

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