Calling “A Kid” a nice family drama may sound faintly damning, but the fact is the film is just that, a solidly crafted story about a man discovering that his late father, Jean, had another family, told with the right dose of emotion, without sex, and with a finish designed to leave a warm and quasi-tearful glow. In lesser hands, “A Kid” would have tipped into bland sentimentality, but Philippe Lioret (“Welcome”) is a master at weaving narratives that balance a sufficient degree of psychological depth with good old-fashioned storytelling know-how. Though the midsection is weak, the movie compensates with a well-played ending that makes it a natural for mainstream Francophone art houses, not to mention Euro satcast rotation and in-flight entertainment.
At 33, Mathieu (Pierre Deladonchamps, “Stranger by the Lake”) appears vaguely unsatisfied with his life as a dog-food sales executive in Paris. His relationship with ex-wife Carine (Romane Portail) is good, he’s an involved dad to son Valentin (Timothy Vom Dorp), yet he seems to be treading water. Then he gets word that the father he never knew has died in Canada, leaving two other adult sons, and he decides to go to Montreal to meet the family he was unaware existed.
Mathieu’s sole contact is the person who broke the news by phone, his father’s friend Pierre (Gabriel Arcand). At the airport Pierre appears demonstrably annoyed that Mathieu made the journey, urging him to keep his existence a secret from half-brothers Benjamin (Patrick Hivon) and Samuel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). It’s all very perplexing to Mathieu, whose mother died eight years earlier sticking to her story that she’d had a one-night stand and never revealing even his father’s name.
Making matters more complicated, Jean drowned in a lake and his body hasn’t been found. Benjamin and Samuel head north to the site in the hopes of finding their father’s remains; Pierre reluctantly agrees to bring Mathieu along provided he doesn’t tell the brothers that he’s the half-sibling they don’t know about. Here’s where the script sags a bit, as tensions between Benjamin and Samuel feel forced (money and religion come into play), and their interactions could have been better played. More meaningful and considerably more satisfying are scenes with Mathieu at Pierre’s home, where Pierre’s wife Angie (Marie-Thérèse Fortin) and their daughter Bettina (Catherine de Léan) offer insight into Jean and his family while extending warmth and understanding to the slightly bewildered Frenchman.
Lioret sets up Pierre’s family dynamics as an antidote of sorts to Jean’s more fractured household, but in keeping with the helmer’s quietly unassuming style, he reveals that loving families come in all forms, and that surfaces rarely offer views into what lies beneath. “A Kid,” very loosely adapted from a novel by Jean-Paul Dubois, plays with these notions in a straightforward yet layered manner, contrasting forms of fatherhood without passing judgment. The film also juxtaposes Mathieu’s French laissez-faire outlook with the Canadians’ more unyielding mindset, in which secrets are allowed to stew and bubble over in sometimes violent ways. That said, there are barely any true fireworks here, just the kind of gradual understanding that comes with hard-won maturity.
Deladonchamps plays a seemingly more conventional character than in recent films, but Mathieu is never less than an interesting figure, decent and kind without being wishy-washy. That’s a good summation for the whole film: handsomely made, gently told, and revealing depths that weren’t so apparent from the beginning.