Rating: ★★★½ out of 5
Les Invites de Mon Pere, or My Father’s Guests, is a 2010 French comedy film, written and directed by Anne Le Ny (who also makes a brief cameo) about a family that struggles to adjust to two new houseguests. Lucien, the now aged, retired patriarch of the family, lives by himself and continues to write on political issues, having once been a very prominent social activist. Out of the blue, Lucien decides that he would like to take in a family of illegal immigrants as an act of selfless charity and progressive thinking. His son, Arnaud, who practices business law, is immediately skeptical of the undertaking and advises against it. On the night that the new houseguests are set to arrive, the family gathers for a meal at Lucien’s apartment. Both of Lucien’s adult children, Arnaud and Babette, as well as their two spouses, are shocked to see that the guests are a tall, provocative Moldovan woman named Tatiana, and her young daughter, Sorina. The family (excluding Lucien) is confounded by her good looks and ostensibly unrefined behavior, which they chalk up to cultural differences. But as the days go by and the family adjusts to the new presence at their father’s home, Tatian’s intentions are brought into question, and it becomes evident that Lucien’s feelings for Tatiana are not merely altruistic.
Though My Father’s Guests is labeled as a comedy, it puts more emphasis on the dramatic elements of a family torn apart by an unexpected intrusion. One wonders at the outset how a filmmaker can even make a comedy out of something as serious as refugees fleeing their homeland, but the film manages to work in a few laughs without being flippant about the subject matter. The principal drawback of the script is that it seems to push the message that immigrants are crude, amoral people just looking for a handout. The film attempts to combat this categorization within the last few minutes by emphasizing that Tatiana only ever wanted to provide a good life for her daughter, but it feels like a weak attempt considering how she is portrayed throughout the majority of the narrative.
My Father’s Guests also seeks, rather insufficiently, to set up a duality between the bourgeois and “the Resistance,” or those fighting for social justice. Arnaud is constantly accused of being selfish and far too obsessed with money, and he defends himself by blaming his father, who cut him off financially years prior and forced him to work harder to be successful. Meanwhile, Babette, who at the start of the film is a meek, repressed woman, decides to have an affair of her own with a coworker in a feeble attempt to compete with her father’s own sordid love life. And, despite her hatred for Tatiana, Babette never loses the qualities that made her Lucien’s favorite child: her compassion and charitable nature. These qualities create a fracture between the two siblings, whose difficult relationship with their father only makes their feelings toward the new houseguests even more complicated. The film never explores these dualities beyond the surface, but they do create interesting parallels between the characters, and often allow for the more dramatic moments in the film to take shape.
Despite the somewhat negative portrayal of illegal immigrants, this is a very well made film. It is well-shot, taking place mostly in the various apartments and workplaces of each of the family members. The writing, while not spectacular, is charming and occasionally funny, and the performances are all believable given the circumstances of the plot. This is a highly entertaining film, particularly if you are a fan of French cinema, and, even though it leans rather heavily on the drama, it is still an enjoyable French comedy.
My Father’s Guests is currently available to stream on Netflix.