The Ties That Subtly Bind

Friday, February 16, 2007

Can a low-key comedy be too low-key? Daniel Burman's "Family Law," set in contemporary Argentina, stars Daniel Hendler as Ariel Perelman, a law professor in his 30s who, upon getting married and having his first child, is reassessing his relationship with his father. (See Film Notes on Page 33.)

That imposing figure -- a charismatic lawyer who plies his trade with all the moxie and style the self-effacing Ariel lacks -- is named Bernardo (played with understated gusto by Arturo Goetz). Seen at a distance by Ariel, who narrates "Family Law" as if his life were a public television documentary, Bernardo emerges as a man whose paternal desires for his son have been continually thwarted by the less ambitious Ariel.

Or at least that's how Ariel sees it. "Family Law" never really gets to the nitty-gritty of the Perelmans' fraught relationship, instead maintaining a gently ironic distance that, while admirable in its restraint, ultimately lacks emotional fire. Still, this observant little movie does delicately touch on those unspoken assumptions that animate so many filial relationships. And the wry, soft-spoken tone is a welcome one amid the dysfunctional burlesques Hollywood routinely extrudes. Less isn't more in "Family Law," it's just less. And that's fine.

-- Ann Hornaday

Family Law Unrated, 102 minutes Contains nothing objectionable. In Spanish with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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