Made when he was a stripling of 24, Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman’s first feature, A Chrysanthemum Bursts in Cincoesquinas, was a violent story of love and revenge. He must have gotten that out of his system: Though Burman’s subsequent movies also traffic in what he calls “the great transitions of life”—identity, marriage, parenthood, and death, not necessarily in that order—they embrace an ambivalent but warm view of domesticity that has made Burman, now 33, a film-festival favorite.
Burman’s self-deprecating Jewish humor has also invited the inevitable comparisons with Woody Allen. Certainly his work bears some resemblance to early Woody, before Allen’s films took a turn for the rancid, lewd, and bitter. Burman’s three most recent films feature neurotic Jewish men (all played with minimalist delicacy by the seraphic young Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler) suffering crises both oedipal and existential. But where Allen’s movies are fueled by an unprocessed hostility and, at their lowest ebb, contempt for his Jewishness and his family, Burman’s tone is wry, loving, and tender even when, as often happens, things fall apart.
Waiting for the Messiah (2000), about a young man caught between love of his family and the need to separate, and Lost Embrace (2004), in which a similar young man struggles to sort out his relationship with an absent father, are both set in Burman’s beloved Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires, where he grew up and about which he made a documentary, Seven Days in Once. His latest, Family Law, extends Burman’s meditation on the tug between belonging and self-definition that challenges even the most loving father-son relationships.
“There’s a moment in life when one decides whether one’s going to turn into one’s father or the opposite,” says Burman. “It’s difficult to be in the middle.” I ask Burman which one he is, and he lobs me this: “I’m the opposite of my father—until now.”
Burman’s next movie will be about the empty nest, which seems a touch premature for the father of two children, ages four and three. “I see the joy in my kids, and they enjoy me,” he says. “I’m angry at the idea that they are going to abandon me someday.” Maybe the comparison to Woody Allen, king of worriers, isn’t so off base.