A family emergency forces a resentful grown offspring to care for his impossible father in “Only Son.” Cutting between its characters’ highly dysfunctional past and grimly tolerated present, this second fiction film by Belgian documentarian Miel Van Hoogenbemt covers familiar narrative ground to reasonably compelling if unmemorable effect. Drama’s best bet for commercial success is on the smallscreen.

Nearly 40, driving a cab because his passion for photography was never encouraged, divorced Vincent (Laurent Capelluto) lives with daughter Lucie (Coline Leempoel) and keeps finding excuses to delay girlfriend Pauline’s (Sophie Quinton) over-eager plans to move in. His household is unsettled quite enough when he honors the wishes of his mother, Marie-Astrid (Anna Galiena) and takes in his estranged father while she’s getting hospital cancer treatments.

Lucie gets along with gramps well enough, but Vincent loathes having the old man around. No wonder: Theo (Patrick Chesnais) is and always has been outrageously self-centered, insensitive and obnoxious. Flashbacks to Vincent’s childhood show what he and his mom, who perpetually turned a blind eye, had to put up with. Theo’s parenting was neglectful, inappropriate and abusive; when Marie-Astrid finally had a nervous breakdown, Dad simply shipped Vincent off to boarding school rather than suffer any real domestic responsibilities. For decades, he’s carried on an ill-concealed affair with family friend Violette (Desiree Nosbusch), and now thoughtlessly has her over for conjugal visits under his son’s roof while his wife might be dying.

Pic exhibits a touch of magical realism in portraying the way Vincent learned from an early age that he could control house flies with his mind, providing a way to bedevil Dad without retribution.

Seriocomic progress works toward a point where a lifetime of barely suppressed filial hostility explodes. To the credit of the screenplay by Dominique Sampiero and Hoogenbemt, this confrontation brings no neat reconciliation, or even acceptance of blame — Theo may simply be incapable of feeling guilt.

Adding to Vincent’s woes are the elaborate ruses he devises to keep Pauline at bay, which are sure to be found out. It doesn’t quite make sense when this setup isn’t followed through to the end.

While there’s no great novelty or distinction in “Only Son,” the helmer ably sustains interest, and a well-cast ensemble hits all the right notes. Tech/design contributions are solid.

Only Son


  • Production: An Entre Chien et Loup, Samsa Film and Liaison Cinematographie production in association with RTBF, Belgacom. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Sebastien Delloye, Jani Thiltges, Diana Elbaum. Directed by Miel Van Hoogenbemt. Screenplay, Dominique Sampiero, Van Hoogenbemt.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Virginie Saint Martin; editor, Matyas Veress; production designer, Patrick Colbaert; costume designer, Maddalena Labuz; sound (Dolby Digital), Paul Heymans, Pia Dumont, Ingrid Simon, Michel Schillings; casting, Michael Bier. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Focus on World Cinema), Aug. 24, 2011. Running time: 95 MIN.
  • With: With: Laurent Capelluto, Patrick Chesnais, Fanny Valette, Sophie Quinton, Amir Ben Abdelmoumen, Coline Leempoel, Itsik Elbaz, Desiree Nosbusch, Anna Galiena. (French dialogue)
  • Music By: