Film Notes

Exploring the Bonds Between Fathers and Sons

Like their characters in the film, Daniel Hendler, right, and Eloy Burman took swimming lessons to prepare for their roles in
Like their characters in the film, Daniel Hendler, right, and Eloy Burman took swimming lessons to prepare for their roles in "Family Law," along with the boy's father, writer-director Daniel Burman. (By Sol Levinas)
By Christina Talcott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2007

Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler plays lawyer Ariel Perelman in "Family Law," Argentine writer-director Daniel Burman's third film about the relationships between fathers and sons. This is Hendler's third starring role in the Burman trilogy, featuring "Waiting for the Messiah" (2000) and "Lost Embrace" (2004).

The plot of "Family Law" seems to mirror elements of the 33-year-old filmmaker's life: Before studying film, he studied law; his father, mother and brother are all lawyers; and Burman became a father four years ago with the birth of his first son, Eloy, who plays Hendler's son in the film. (See review on Page 35.)

"It's autobiographical from point of view," Burman says. "There's a big difference between how the mother builds the relationship with the son and how the father builds the relationship with the son. They're different kinds of relationships, with different logic, and this was the starting point of the movie."

For Hendler, playing a father was more natural than playing a lawyer, even though the 31-year-old doesn't have children with his wife, whom he married last month. He explains: "I'm not a father, but I can say that all men have a father inside. I can't say that I have a lawyer inside. I have nothing similar to a lawyer inside. I had to explore and . . . do some things that I never thought I had to try, like going to the university to law school, to study -- that kind of stuff that actors should say that they are doing, and I never do it, but in this case I studied for three months."

Hendler concedes, though, that his scenes with Burman's son, who was 2 at the time, were his hardest. "It is difficult . . . when you perform with a kid or with a dog or with a crazy man . . . because you can't lie. If you lie even a little bit, it's immediately obvious. The kid is like, 'What are you doing? That's not true!' "

Nevertheless, Hendler says, "I think it worked better than working with other people's kids, because the father knows exactly what he needs from the kid." To prepare for his role, Hendler, his young co-star and the director "met two months before the shooting [started] and went to swimming classes," like father and son do in the film, Hendler says. "It was good because it was very natural."

For his part, Burman calls working with his son "a very crazy and amazing experience. . . . When I started the casting and I saw the list, I needed a boy of 2 years old, and I said, 'Okay, I have one in my house!' [But] the night before the first day of shooting, I realized I had made a very important decision, not only for me, but for him. I was thinking, 'Why? My son is 2 years old! Why did I decide on him? Why?' And I felt very depressed, and very guilty (guilty because, of course, I am Jewish).

"The first day of shooting I said, 'Okay, if he doesn't want to come, or he cries, or if he prefers to watch 'Barney' on TV . . . I will let him.' But the 15 days of shooting with my son was magic . . . but I will never repeat it in my life. At one point, I made the same mistake that I criticized about Perelman Sr., trying to put my son in my own vocation."

Hendler and Burman are now working on Burman's new film, "Empty Nest." Hendler won't be in the film but is helping to write it. It's another look at parent-child relationships, but this time it's about the parents and the empty nest syndrome. With two young sons, Burman and his wife are years away from facing an empty nest of their own. Calling fatherhood "a state of happiness," Burman seems to be working through his own fears in his next film -- primarily a fear of the inevitable. He has been called, at times, an Argentine Woody Allen, fretting about a still-distant future: "Sunday morning, I am in my house, very happy, reading the newspaper and watching my sons playing. . . . I know that in 15 years or 18 years, they will tell me goodbye. It's crazy! It's so short, this wonderful time when you build this small universe in your house. One day, they leave you alone, and you need to call them 20 times a week to reach them. Life is terrible! I want them in the house forever!"

'The Legend of Merv Conn'

This qualifies as a home game: On Sunday, the AFI Silver Theatre (8633 Colesville Rd.) in Silver Spring will host a screening of Maryland pop-culture cineaste Jeff Krulik's "The Legend of Merv Conn." The 50-minute documentary honors Silver Spring's leading (possibly only) strolling octogenarian accordionist. The screening at 4:30 will double as a birthday celebration for the 87-year-old Conn, with a concert featuring members of the Metropolitan Washington Accordion Society, as well as a singalong followed by free birthday cake in the lobby. There will be a 21-accordion salute, but it's BYOA, so it may get bigger.

Krulik, who in the '90s developed and researched programs for Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel just up the street from the AFI, is best known for his 1986 documentary "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," a much-lauded portrait of hard-core Judas Priest fans filmed at the old Capital Centre parking lot. Tickets are $5 for Sunday's screening, which will feature such shorts as filmmaker George Merriken's 1940 visit to Glen Echo Amusement Park, another about the last day of Washington streetcars in 1962, and other rare footage emphasizing Washington history. Call 301-495-6720.

-- Richard Harrington

© 2007 The Washington Post Company