American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
One day a letter comes from Africa, regretting to inform him that his father has died, and was not able to return to France "as he had planned." That night, during a party in his honor, Jean-Luc sees his father standing among the other guests in the garden, beaming, nodding, his eyes twinkling: Yes, it's really me. Is this the father returned from the dead, or was the letter mistaken? The end of the film presents a third possibility.
"How I Killed My Father" is not about murder in the literal sense, although that seems a possibility. It is about a man who would like to kill his father, and who may have been killed spiritually by his father. Because his father abandoned him and embraced freedom on a continent far away, the son has turned in the opposite direction and jammed himself into a corner, denying himself love, freedom, even children. This is a harrowing movie about how parents know where all the buttons are, and how to push them. Unlike most such stories, however, it doesn't blame the father for pushing the buttons, but the son for having them. We choose to be unhappy.
The background is easily told. Thirty years ago, when Jean-Luc (Charles Berling) was about 10, his father Maurice (Michel Bouquet) walked out and never returned. Jean-Luc's younger brother Patrick (Stephane Guillon) doesn't remember the old man, isn't as wounded, but is a feckless failure who Jean-Luc has hired as a driver and assistant. It's almost as if this relationship forces Jean-Luc to take over the father's responsibility for Patrick.
Jean-Luc is a wealthy doctor in Versailles, running a clinic that promises to combat the process of aging. A woman client asks about botox. A man complains he will be elderly when his 2-year-old is grown. At home, Jean-Luc lives with his wife Isa (Natacha Regnier), a "perfect" wife, hostess and adornment. He has determined it would be dangerous for her to have children.