Father of My Children (2009)
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writer: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cinematographer: Pascal Auffray
Producer: Oliver Damian, Philippe Martin, and David Thion
by Jon Cvack
I keep wanting to start a page about Netflix spoiling movies by providing synopses that often extend more than halfway through the film, in this case - spoiler - telling me that the main character commits suicide, which I don’t think I would’ve anticipated for at least the first quarter of the movie.
This is the second movie I’ve watched from the French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve (a woman filmmaker in case any others wouldn’t guess with). The reason I even mention it is because the first film I saw, Goodbyife, First Love (2011), felt a bit creepy to tell. As mentioned in my thoughts on If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), it just goes to show the importance of having stories told from particular perspectives; allowing us to dive into a long unfamiliar worldview.
It also makes the Father of My Children all the more interesting. The plot follows a successful film producer Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing; a man) whose lavish life begins to crumble as he discovers his production company is near bankrupt. We meet his wife Sylvia Canvel (Chiara Caselli) and two girls, Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing; who’d be in Goodbyife, First Love) and her sister Billie. They have a loving and affectionate relationship, taking weekend trips up to their second home in the country.
With two movies in production, including a 19th century period piece, and another Korean film a few weeks out from production, Grégoire learns from his lawyer that the company is in serious financial trouble. With few films bringing in the returns required to pay off over four million Euros in debt, and with his present catalogue already mortgaged, the best he could do is sell the company for only a quarter of what he owes.
Mia Hansen-Løve does an exquisite job of building the world of a film producer, and capturing the spirit of independent production. It’s a small operation, employing less than ten people, and yet always filled with people coming in for meetings; including a young writer/director who Grégoire invited in to collaborate on a project and gets caught in the whirlwind of his collapse.
Soon the ailing finances smother Grégoire, and knowing there’s no way out, he kills himself by shooting himself in the head on a random sidewalk in the middle of the street. The family is later notified and so begins the second half of the story, as Sylvia attempts to rescue the business while consoling her daughters. It’s here that the film takes a bit of a dip, as while I never hoped it’d enter into melodrama, there’s a peculiar distance the family has from what just happened. We never see them or even get a suggestion of their grief, whether the wife or the daughters. Sylvia tries to make deals that buy time or at least preserve the company’s existence, and the older daughter Clémence starts going out with the young filmmaker, who without a signed contract, can’t make his film. We never hear all that much from Belle. Later Clémence discovers that her father had lived a double life, having another son with a different woman.
In the end, the company is sold, and the finances appear cleared out, and I was left wondering what to feel for Sylvia and her daughters. What I assume had to be denial, came across as indifference; leaving me to wonder if they were all just putting on an act in the earliest scenes as they demonstrated their love. And yet that seems too cynical. It’s as though the story didn’t know what to do with the characters once their father was gone.
BELOW: Couldn't find much beyond the trailer, so here ya go
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