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Daniel Burman on “Family Law”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Family Law,” IFC Films, 2006]

According to Argentine director Daniel Burman, most of life’s problems originate with our parents — more specifically, our fathers. “When I started to date, I realized that all the relationships that didn’t go well were ones where on the first date, the girl would talk about her father,” he says. “The woman I ended up marrying didn’t talk about her father until maybe six months after we met.”

Burman’s latest film, the warm comedy “Family Law,” talks a lot about fathers and sons and the ways in which generations of men struggle to relate to one another. Daniel Hendler plays Perelman, a young attorney and law professor grappling with fatherhood and living in the shadow of his more successful father (played by Arturo Goetz). Burman — who cast his own 2-year-old son as Perelman’s precocious offspring — took a break from writing his next film to speak to us about his own struggles as a father and a director.

Where did the idea for the film originate?

It came from my own experience of becoming a father, when I was watching the way that the bond between the mother of my child and my son formed so quickly. It was a physical bond and a spontaneous bond. It makes it seem like a woman has always been a mother her whole life, whereas fathers have to work to form the link with our sons.

This is your third film [after “Waiting for the Messiah” (2000) and “Lost Embrace” (2005)] on the subject of fatherhood. Why is this subject so important to you?

I could make films about this topic for my whole life. This film is about the search for one’s own identity, and building a bond with our parents and with our children is the first step towards that. It’s very difficult to know who we are if we don’t know who our parents are. It’s something that I didn’t invent — Freud discovered it a long time ago.

You’ve made several films. Does making films get easier or more difficult as your career progresses?

It’s easier to do the movie in some ways, and harder to do the movie in some ways. It’s easier to get the resources, but when everything is ready and you have fifty people asking you questions, it makes each movie harder, because people tell you less about what they really think. It’s something you always have to work on; you could be working with someone who knows that you’ve done five different films and they might think you’re doing something wrong, but they won’t say it to you, because they’re going to think “Well he knows what he’s doing,” but many times I don’t!

How does the film industry in Argentina differ from that of the United States?

It’s much easier to make a movie in Argentina than in America, because there are no lawyers, agents, or managers. You just have the movie. That’s the good side; the bad side is that the market is very small. In the U.S., you have the risk of whether the film will be a success, but you have a potential for success that is limitless. In Argentina, the difference between a success and a failure is very subtle. If it goes well for you, you can maybe paint your house and maybe get a new car. If you have success in the U.S., it changes your life and the next generation’s life.

Your film is one of several from Argentina to be released in the United States in 2006, including “The Aura” and “The Holy Girl.” Is this a particularly exciting moment for cinema in Argentina, or has this culture always existed and Americans are just realizing it now?

This is a moment of a lot of energy and movement in Argentina, but it’s also because we’ve been able to get past some of the hurdles to putting movies out in the U.S.

Americans are not used to reading when they see a film. It’s something that’s very hard to get past. When you go to the movies in Europe, everyone’s reading the film — it’s normal in Europe. It’s not something that’s going to stop you from seeing a film. But here it is.

Why do fathers and sons have such a difficult time communicating?

It might sound scandalous to say, but I don’t think paternity is a natural bond. It’s very much a social bond, a more cultural bond than that of the mother. It’s difficult because we look at the women and we see how they do it so easily even without thinking about it, and we’re over there reading books and talking to our children and we always do it wrong. Whatever you do, you’re going to be a bad father! My objective is to be the least bad father that I can be.

“Family Law” opens in New York on December 8th (official site).

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