Moving from the teenage and pre-adolescent terrain of her prior features (“In Mom’s Head,” “The Dandelions”) to relatively grownup protagonists, Carine Tardieu’s “Just to be Sure” is nonetheless once again all about problematic parental relationships. This bright ensemble comedy ponders nature vs. nurture from several character viewpoints, principally that of Francois Damiens as a middle-aged man who suddenly discovers his biological father may be someone other than “Dad.” Cleverly written and winningly cast, it’s already opened in several territories. More should follow, and remake rights might be in demand eventually.
Bearish but generally even-tempered Erwan is in a literally explosive business: His Brittany-based firm finds, extracts and/or detonates old bombs and other buried hazards left over from wars of yore. Such work requires steady nerves. Meanwhile, Erwan’s 23-year-old daughter Juliette (Alice de Lencquesaing) seems to be all capricious impulse — she’s managed to get herself pregnant without knowing who the father is. (Much alcohol and a costume party were involved.) In the course of routine medical testing to see if the baby has any hereditary health concerns, Erwan is dumbfounded to learn that his elderly fisherman pa Bastien (Guy Marchant) isn’t — indeed, can’t be — his real father. He hires a private detective (Brigitte Rouan, a bit over the top) to find out who really is dear old Dad, and with alarming speed the PI finds evidence that points to a man living just a few miles down the road.
Erwan can’t stop himself from curiously stalking, then chatting up gregarious lifelong activist Joseph (Andre Wilms), to whom he soon blurts out the assumed “truth.” This new friend is at first suspicious, but quickly warms to the idea of having a son, particularly as the two get along so well. However, Joseph is loath to tell his daughter about this surprise development, just as Erwan can’t bring himself to tell his father (whose late wife presumably cheated on him) what he’s discovered.
Meanwhile, more secrets pile up when our hero stumbles upon evidence that his imminent grandson’s sperm donor might be none other than Didier (the single-named Esteban), the harebrained youth Juliette finagled him into hiring as a charity case. And life gets still more complicated when Anna (Cecile De France), the temperamental but cute veterinarian Erwan meets by chance, turns out to be Joseph’s daughter — turning their new romance into a probably-incestuous minefield.
The lively, intricate screenplay by Tardieu, Raphaele Moussafir and Michel Leclerc (with Baya Kasmi billed as an additional “collaborator”) is deft enough to seldom seem over-contrived, maintaining a tone of witty naturalism that accommodates some touching moments as well as the broader stoner humor of Esteban’s role. The latter comes very close to being too much of a cartoon, yet it’s to the film’s credit that ultimately every character proves likable and unpredictable. If things get just a tad treacly toward the end, Tardieu & co. wisely return to comedy and a lighter shade of warmth before the fadeout.
Belgian thesp Damiens floats this enterprise with just the right amount of harried Everyman appeal. De France hits a bit too abrasive a screwball note at first, but her performance gains charm in equal measure to its chemistry with her co-star. Storied veterans Marchand and Wilms are excellent as two quite different but equally sympathetic father figures.
“Just to be Sure” is pleasantly accomplished on all levels, from the attractive visual packaging to some amusing soundtrack choices. The latter include repeated use of a duet from “The Magic Flute” whose relevance only becomes clear over time.