This latest French comedy from director Carine Tardiou (The Dandelions) mines predictable plot points without following through in the ways we might typically expect. With Just to be Sure, Tardiou, who also wrote the screenplay, manages to seamlessly blend humour and drama with Belgian actor Francois Damiens (so good in The Belier Family and fabulous again here) as a 45-year-old widower who learns that the man he grew up with, and with whom he enjoys a good relationship, is not his biological father. Of course, the dilemma comes in his desire to find his real father and, like so many French comedies, the story that ensues is entertaining, subtle and clever with the director and her cast handling the poignant material every bit as well as the lighter moments. Erwan is a bomb-disposal expert who has forgone working in more exotic locales to take on the responsibility of clearing old wartime munitions from local beaches, ostensibly to be available as a means of support to his heavily-pregnant daughter Juliette (Alice de Lencquesaing).
Father and daughter share an apartment and it is when Juliette undertakes a medical examination to rule out a potentially serious genetic disorder (hence the film’s title) that the truth of Erwan’s paternity is revealed, insofar as it reveals that his father Bastien (Guy Marchand) is not the man from whom he was spawned. In quick time, a private investigator identifies Joseph Levkine (Andrew Wilms), a former activist who is struggling to maintain his dignity amidst the physical and social limitations of life as an old man, as Erwan’s biological father. Whilst returning from a visit with Joseph, Erwan encounters the straight-talking doctor Anna (Cecile de France) and is instantly smitten but, of course, there needs to be an obstacle standing in the way of true love and, in this instance, it is the somewhat problematic fact that Anna happens to be Joseph’s daughter, something that he becomes aware of before her and results in a very humorous scene on the beach as the genial Erwan fends off Anna’s advances.
Now, this is a romantic comedy so, needless to say, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome and, although there is considerable ambiguity with regard to how it is that these two can be together that only muddies the waters further with regard to the paternity of both of them, it is inevitable that love will prevail. Damiens and de France bring a great chemistry to two characters whose personalities are poles apart. Both Joseph and Bastien are dignified and vulnerable and it is a great credit to the two actors that neither character ever demands that you feel sorry for them. In fact, the whole cast is great and the characters are all believable (except perhaps for the bumbling Didier, who seems like he is from another film altogether), however de Lencquesaing is the standout as the feisty Juliette who, despite Erwan’s current obsession with fathers and family ties, is adamant that her child will be better off not knowing who its father is and refuses to reveal the identity of the baby daddy.
There is so much to like about this film that there is every reason to be concerned that a Hollywood studio boffin will decide that an American remake is needed, which of course it isn’t. As it is, Just to be Sure is perfectly fine. From the performances to the way in which Tardieau juggles a lot of heavy issues with a delightfully deft touch, drawing upon the predictabilities and coincidences that drive romantic comedies whilst still delivering something that is quite different, Just to be Sure is an enjoyably intelligent study of fatherhood, family and forgiveness.