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Thread: Daniel Burman: Family Law

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    Daniel Burman: Family Law

    Daniel Burman: Family Law (2006)


    DANIEL HENDLER, JULIETA DIAZ IN DERECHO DE FAMILIA/FAMILY LAW

    A light touch that will elude some

    Review by Chris Knipp

    Here’s the best antidote for Borat, a feather-light comedy about families pervaded by good taste, good manners, and mutual understanding.

    Family Law (Derecho de familia) is an Argentinean film centered on an impeccable young man with a certain reserve. He sleeps in his suit – or so his wife, Sandra (Julieta Díaz) puts it. Actually he’s in his shirt and tie by then. This is Ariel Perelman, or Perelman Junior (Daniel Hendler). When his son, Gastón (Eloy Burman), has a show at his kindergarten, which is Swiss but rather off-puttingly touchy-feely and New Age for his taste, Perelman promises to do the costumes, and he does. He dresses all the children in little dark suits and ties.

    This is a film that establishes its world most ably and focuses on helping us understand how that world works. To formulate the guiding point of view, there is Junior’s voiceover.

    Perelman is comfortable in his life, doing things his own way. (The film teaches us to be comfortable with him too.) He courts his future wife, who’s a Pilates instructor in Buenos Aires, by having her instruct him. His father Bernardo, or Perelman Senior (Arturo Goetz), is a trial lawyer who keeps a professional witness on call, while Perelman Junior, who lectures on the law, has an associate "interrupt" his lectures to make points. Perelman Junior is on a state salary, while his more prepossessing father is a well known barrister. When reconstruction of the building gives Junior a couple of months off, he doesn’t tell his wife; but he does spend more time with little Gastón when Sandra goes to Machu Pichu for a Pilates conference, her first time away since the birth of the little boy. (Junior's somewhat exploratory free-floating status resembles that of the main character in the Chilean Alicia Scherson's terrific movie, Play, who also is having time off work but says nothing about it.)

    Junior and his wife are a typical Argentinean Jewish-Catholic couple he says. It's not a big deal. But maybe that's the film's greatest accomplishment, again with a light touch: this unceremonious installation of Jewishness in a Latin American setting.

    Perelman Senior is more outgoing than his son, a man of the old school, charming, known by everybody, an individual of regular routines who has coffee and a croissant before he talks to anybody, and meets with clients in restaurants so they’ll be more relaxed. He’s on a retainer to some clients, such as an Italian restaurateur always in trouble with the Health Department. And he's a widower with a secretary of a certain age (Adriana Aizemberg) to whom he is close. Perelman Senior has a secret, and at the end we find out what it is.

    Meanwhile, Perelman Senior has a birthday. Everyone seems to know about it but Perelman Junior. One of his father’s cronies sees that the son doesn’t embarrass himself. The men grow a bit closer, but Perelman Junior doesn’t understand why. For all his distance and his reserve, he’s charming with little Gastón (also a charmer), and his intimate moments with Sandra feel perfectly right. Burman is wonderful at avoiding clichés and sentimentality, while talking about the sort of things that attract those defects.

    Family Law is about the basic things, families, generations, lifestyles, attitudes. Director Daniel Burman is uniquely benign and his humor is of the most gentle, ironic, subtle kind.The sensibility is suavely European – western European, perhaps Mediterranean (and perhaps typically Argentinean Jewish-Catholic). It may be making gentle fun of the Argentinean preoccupation with appearances. Like good Italians – and Italian influence in the country, I hear, is not negligible – the people in Family Law avoid facendo brutta figura (looking bad) like the plague. This film is quietly life affirming. It’s well made and intelligent. But it may not make a very deep impression on those used to stronger stuff.

    Indeed, it's better not to talk too much about what happens in Family Law, because its little surprises are all it has. It’ll lower your blood pressure, in a good way. Those who prefer to be hit over the head with blunt messages will prefer Borat and declare this a namby-pamby flop.

    Family Law is Argentina’s Best Foreign contender in this year’s Oscar competition. (Kazakhstan doesn’t have an entry.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-18-2016 at 09:04 PM.

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    Daniel Burman's Ariel Trilogy

    Writer/director Daniel Burman is an unofficial chronicler of Jewish life in Argentina or, to be exact, the section of Buenos Aires called "El Once". This is where East European Jews who immigrated to Argentina settled and continue to congregate. Family Law is the last installment of Burman's Ariel trilogy. Daniel Hendler, an Uruguayan actor of Jewish descent, has been cast as three different young men named Ariel in Waiting For the Messiah (2000), Lost Embrace (2004), and Family Law. The latter, which deals more casually with its ethnic milieu than the others, is currently being distributed stateside by IFC First Take. It's Argentina's official submission to the Oscars.

    These films are to a certain extent autobiographical, with protagonists of about the same age as Burman who are dealing with identity issues. Each film represents a different stage in the construction of a personal identity, and focuses on aspects of a young man's relationship with his father. In Waiting for the Messiah, Ariel Goldstein's world is turned topsy-turvy by the unexpected death of his mother and the closing of his father's restaurant during Argentina's financial crisis. He is expected to marry a girl who works for her father. This Ariel, an amateur filmmaker, has mostly operated within the close-knit Jewish community. He is forced by circumstance to work for a Spanish TV network. There, he meets and embarks on an affair with a seductive, bisexual woman. Waiting for the Messiah is primarily about a young man confronting predetermined role expectations, but other characters figure prominently. Burman narrowed the scope for the second film, Lost Embrace, to focus increasingly on the Ariel character, who now narrates via voice-over. Most of the action is set in Galeria Once, a rundown shopping center. Hendler is Ariel Makaroff, a young man who resents the father who abandoned him and his mother years ago "to go fight for Israel". Eventually, he will discover that the reasons behind his parents' rift are much more complicated. Ariel himself is pondering whether to apply for Polish citizenship (his grandparents were born there) and move to Europe.

    Family Law is seemingly the most autobiographical of the three films. Hendler is Ariel Perelman, a lawyer who works for Argentina's version of the Legal Aid Society and teaches evidenciary protocol and procedure at a university. His father is a lawyer who always hoped his son would join his private practice (Burman was once a law student and his father was a lawyer). Ariel has apparently kept a distance from dad for years, not even remembering his birthday. Ariel marries a Pilates instructor and former student, and they have a son (played by Eloy Burman, the director's son). Ariel finds himself with free time while the building where he works is being refurbished. He is encouraged by his wife to take a more active parenting role while, simultaneously, the older Perelman attempts to draw closer to Ariel. The young lawyer has apparently resisted being engulfed by his father's identity by keeping a distance. They are both referred almost exclusively by their surname, even by Ariel's wife. From the start, Ariel's voice-over narration emphasizes how different he is than the elder Perelman. Gradually, Ariel grows at ease with a more active role as a father and develops a richer sense of self. Family Law may appear insubstantial to some, partly due to Burman's use of narrative ellipsis (the script bypasses important events, including Ariel's wedding and the birth of his son). The material is not earth-shattering, but it's substantial and carefully observed.

    Burman's films have been labeled "cinema of entertainment" in Argentina, and the director admits his aim is to engage the general public. His style is uniformily classicist, devoid of stylistic flourishes. He makes lighthearted, relaxed (sometimes to a fault) dramas with a sense of humor. Burman's films never strain to be funny, while maintaining a consistently bittersweet tone. The setting may be quite specific and detailed, but the plights of his protagonists are universally relevant. All three Ariels in this trilogy are self-absorbed young men but they are also self-deprecating and generous. The films would be inconceivable without Daniel Hendler, who won the Best Actor prize for Lost Embrace at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival.

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    Thanks for all your more expert background information on Daniel Burman and his filmmaking, Oscar.
    It's Argentina's official submission to the Oscars.
    You could have left that out; I already said it. If I didn't mention that Eloy was the director's son I should have. Good that you place the one film in the context of his three. Everything you say makes sense to me in terms of my observations of the one. It would be more interesting to know more about the Jewish side--how are Jews received in Argentinean society, what is their own community like; how do they like Daniel Burman's work, etc. What is the section of Buenos Aieres called El Once like? Have his films been widely seen in the rest of Latin America or Spain and if so how have they been received in those other places?

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    Thanks for your interest. I'll answer a couple of your questions for the time being.
    Burman's films have been distributed throughout Western Europe and they've been generally well-received. All of his films are co-productions with Spain, often Italy and sometimes France. So naturally his films get wider distribution in those countries. The problem with film exhibition in Latin America in general is that the powerful Hollywood studios have monopolized screens to the point that, in some places, it's difficult to access films in the native Spanish language. Big-budget American films often open wide at the same time or shortly after they are released in the USA.

    Argentina is a country of immigrants to the same extent that the USA is one. Actually the whole continent has received great deal of immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. There are Jewish communities in all Latin American capitals, but the one in Buenos Aires is clearly the largest. I think members of that community would say that their assimilation/acceptance into society doesn't differ significantly than the experience of Jews in the US. Then again, there's a single tragic event that might negate that. On July 14, 1994, a bomb placed by terrorists at the "Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina" killed 85 people and wounded 300 more. The attack was apparently planned by foreign terrorist groups (Iran? Hezbollah?) but it's likely they had "native help". This is a highly controversial, complex issue and I won't get deeper into it than that. A collection of shorts about this incident directed by 10 directors, including Burman, was released under the title 18 J. I plan to watch it next month (import dvd rental from local video shop).

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    I guess Hollywood has quite a monopoly in Colombia and some other countries of Latin America, but Argaintina may have more of a film industry of its own, like Mexico. Don't Mexicans see Mexican movies at least as much as we do? Mexican movies have impressed me quite a lot the past few years. And then I loved not only Ricardo Benet's News from Afar but also Alicia Scherson's Play.

    Argentina's Jewish population in one source online is listed as 197-250,000, the worlds 7th largest and largest in Latin America but well below the leaders: USA (no 1, with 6,500,000), Israel (no. 2, with 4,950,000), and France (no. 3, 600-75,000).

    If you were to say a terrorist bomb meant Jews weren't accepted then you'd have to say Jews weren't accepted in Tel Aviv, either.

    And of course paradoxically in this context Argentina is also famous as a haven for former Nazis.

    I know a little something about the makeup of Argentinean society's from reading and meeting people from there over decades. There seems a substantial Italian influx and I've heard it said that Argentinean Spanish is influenced somewhat by Italian.

    I've long been a student of Jorge Luis Borges--whose eclectic interests bring out among other things an Anglophile side to the culture. And he has a passion for the gauchos. Patagonia is known to English language readers notably through Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, the book that first made this cult writer a cult writer. Patagonia of course comes in not here so much but in the context of The Aura.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I guess Hollywood has quite a monopoly in Colombia and some other countries of Latin America, but Argaintina may have more of a film industry of its own, like Mexico. Don't Mexicans see Mexican movies at least as much as we do? Mexican movies have impressed me quite a lot the past few years.

    Yes to all this. I wish you could seen the two Mexican films that beat News From Afar at the Ariels (Mex. Academy Awards). They are Las Vueltas del Citrillo and Mezcal and they are as good as News from Afar (I happen to like Benet's film a little more but all three are excellent.) Then again, what's happening in Argentina is simply extraordinary. Not since France during the Nouvelle Vague has a single country produced so much outstanding cinema. It's on a whole different scale than the emergence of Iranian and South Korean cinema in the recent past.


    If you were to say a terrorist bomb meant Jews weren't accepted then you'd have to say Jews weren't accepted in Tel Aviv, either.

    I'm not saying that, but this largest attack on Jews since WWII can be misconstrued or misinterpreted as a sign of non-acceptance for the simple reason that it happened in Argentina. It would be wrong to draw those conclusions.

    And of course paradoxically in this context Argentina is also famous as a haven for former Nazis.

    Less so than Brazil and Paraguay.

    There seems a substantial Italian influx and I've heard it said that Argentinean Spanish is influenced somewhat by Italian.

    Absolutely. There are also immigrants from several other European countries, and a decent-sized Korean community: Do U Cry 4 Me, Argentina?

    I've long been a student of Jorge Luis Borges--whose eclectic interests bring out among other things an Anglophile side to the culture. Patagonia of course comes in not here so much but in the context of The Aura.

    Yes. Your review of El Aura definetely benefits from your familiarity with the area and the culture.

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    Thanks for all that. I'm no expert on Nazis in South America, but some sources say Evita made Argentina a haven for them, and some of the worst ended up there perhaps ("vilest" one source says), even if there may have been more in Paraguay and Brazil. I don't know though. This is a side issue anyway.

    The two Carlos Sorin films I've seen have given me the best sense of the feel of Patagonia. They really take you there.

    For me News from Afar was a magical experience. But I hope we get to see those other new Mexican directors you mention and more, in festivals at least. The SFIFF seems to be good for a few.

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    Carlos Sorin's latest, The Road to San Diego, won the Special Jury Prize at San Sebastian (Jeanne Moreau was the head of the jury). It also got a good review on Variety. I hope it gets picked up by the Miami fest. I can't wait to see the lineup in a couple of weeks. It's about a hillbilly who worships soccer god Diego Maradona.

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    Sounds more mainstream.

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