Family story that sneaks up on you

Times Staff Writer

The protagonist of Argentine writer-director Daniel Burman's harmoniously comedic drama, "Family Law," is a young Jewish law professor named Perelman, overshadowed by his imposing attorney father. The opening scenes involve Perelman narrating the precisely timed, remarkably efficient schedule of Perelman Sr.'s days.

As comfortable as the father (Arturo Goetz) is in any situation -- he's described as a Zelig of the law -- the son is awkward, unsure of almost everything in his well-appointed life. Played by Daniel Hendler, also the star of Burman's much admired 2004 film "Lost Embrace," the younger Perelman is sweetly neurotic, the kind of intelligent man as befuddled by good fortune as bad.

The one place the younger man seems confident is in the classroom, lecturing and interacting with his students, and that is where he meets his future wife, a beauty named Sandra (Julieta Diaz). When Sandra stops coming to class, Perelman discovers she has dropped out to be a Pilates instructor, and much to his surprise he wins her heart, they marry and have an adorable son, Gaston (Eloy Burman), in quick succession.

As proficient as Perelman is behind the lectern, his communication skills everywhere else are lacking. He's constantly missing signals from his father, wife and son, and this is the grand theme of the film. There's a disconnect between Perelman and his father that begins to close only when he learns to listen to his own son.

Burman is a keen observer of human behavior and reveals the subtle drama in everyday life by allowing the audience to read between the lines.

His slyly elliptical storytelling sneaks up on you with an undercurrent of emotion based on pivotal events that largely occur off-screen.

A thoughtful, incisive film, "Family Law," deftly portrays the roles of fathers and sons in each other's lives. Its bittersweet warmth should resonate wherever you fall in the familial chain.


"Family Law." MPAA rating: unrated. Subtitled. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869.

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