October 17, 2013 7:25 pm

Like Father, Like Son – film review

The bewilderment sparked by an inadvertent child-swap is beautifully caught

Japan’s Hirokazu Kore-eda makes wonder-touched films about children. Wonder, though, can be a two-edged asset. Its sharp edge can produce acutely insightful kids’ tales such as Kore-eda’s I Wish. Its blunt edge can produce the generic, schematic or sentimental. I loved Like Father, Like Son at Cannes. Its plot about a rich architect and wife discovering that their boy of six is not biologically theirs – inadvertently swapped at birth and now the two parent couples decide to swap back – seemed a sweet-souled problem drama primed for a Steven Spielberg-led jury.

Re-seeing, I am not so sure. The momentous bewilderment of a mid-life couple realising their boy is a blood-stranger is beautifully caught. So is the torment involved in trading one child-parent bond, founded on love and history, for another founded on consanguinity. But the second couple’s arrival in the plot starts to make it too schematic. Symmetries (rich, poor) are born. Contrasts – the rich control their kids’ time and hobbies, the poor don’t – are italicised. A story with life and vibrancy becomes a story with a message, a mandate and too mathematical a design.

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