Erwan Gourmelon is in a complicated situation. He’s just found out that his Dad isn’t his biological dad, his daughter is pregnant and doesn’t want to find the father of her baby, and the man who might be his real father is also the father of a woman he’s just started seeing. Trust the French to make a romantic comedy that not only displays such dysfunctional relationships, but also uses them to get to the core of what it means to be a parent, to connect with one another, and love selflessly.
Just to Be Sure is a charming story that brings a sense of whimsy to its deeply human and emotional themes. It’s a simple film, with director Carine Tardieu allowing the strength of the characters and wonderful performances to speak for themselves. François Damiens displays a kind heart and protective spirit as Erwan, who left his previous job as an officer to work in bomb disposal in order to look after his daughter after the death of his wife. Erwan’s job was a playful touch on behalf of the screenwriters, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a romantic comedy with as many explosions as this one. It’s also a nice metaphor for Erwan’s situation, as he spends much of the first act wandering around somewhat shell-shocked after receiving the bombshell reveal that Bastien Gourmelon (Guy Marchand) isn’t his real father. Instead he hires a private detective to find Joseph Levkine (André Wilms), the most likely option to be Erwan’s biological father. The scenes between Erwan and his two Dads were, for me, the strongest moments of Just to Be Sure. Marchand is heartbreakingly innocent as Bastien, unaware as to why his son seems to be pulling away from him yet still deeply proud of Erwan. As Joseph, André Wilms presents an affable man aware of his declining years and surrounded by loss, so seeking companionship wherever he can find it. When Erwan begins showing an interest in him, he’s delighted to find someone to spend time with – even before he figures out why. The theme of fatherhood purveys throughout the film, as Erwan encourages his daughter Juliette (Alice de Lencquesaing) to let the father of her unborn baby into his child’s life, and by doing so has to come to terms with what being a father really means. Is it just the biological connection, as may be the case with Joseph, or is the emotional support provided by Bastien over the years?
This exploration of what it means to be a parent is so effective that I found the romantic subplot between Erwan and Doctor Anna Levkine somewhat disconnected from the main themes. Shortly after Erwan and Anna’s disastrous first meeting they run into each other again and he asks her out, only to discover almost immediately that she is the daughter of Joseph and, possibly, his half-sister. Cécile De France is screen stealing as the confident, no-nonsense Anna, but the connection between her and Erwan was never quite believable. He is understandably hesitant to pursue the relationship after realising who she is, and I couldn’t find a reason for her to become infatuated with a man who becomes so clearly disinterested with her. The uncomfortable nature of their relationship does provide some of the best jokes in the film, but that doesn’t stop it from being, well, uncomfortable in an otherwise wholesome film.
Just to Be Sure is a light, fun movie that uses the dysfunctional and often cartoonish characters to explore universal truths about family and parenting, demonstrating the strength of French cinema to bring together the quirky and the important moments of life.
3 and a half stars.