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Art Debilitates Life

The Father of My Children (2009)

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Mia Hansen-Løve’s second feature picked up the Special Jury Prize in the Un certain regard category at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, a prize that recognizes exceptional young filmmakers. With “The Father of My Children,” Ms. Hansen-Løve certainly and confidently asserts herself as one such talent. Inspired by an encounter with legendary French film producer Humbert Balsan, Ms. Hansen-Løve delivers a touching, incredibly personal familial portrait that deals with artistic drive, pride, the inherent fear of failure and its tragic consequences.

Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is the workaholic visionary producer behind art-house production company Moon Films. Outwardly, he portrays a veneer of cool confidence, yet he conceals the financial realities of his pursuit of the arts from his wife and daughters. A proud family man, Grégoire is unwilling to face up to the trouble he’s in; and as the finances spiral out of control, so too Grégoire, who is terrified of failure above all else. As his professional life unravels, a stubborn Grégoire seeks solace in the bosom of his family, maintaining a façade of normality around his loved ones.

It all makes for fairly desperate viewing; and as Grégoire’s financial options begin to run out, despair manages to crack his invincible exterior. With Moon Films facing liquidation, no funding to finish the several films currently in production (including his pet project, “Venus”) and a relatively worthless back catalog, Grégoire is a spent force. Ms. Hansen-Løve’s absorbing and intimate direction lends Grégoire’s tale a degree of melancholy, yet his unwavering passion and belief in his work is ultimately and tragically inspirational.

For the second act, Ms. Hansen-Løve shifts the focus from Grégoire to his wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and eldest daughter Clémence (de Lencquesaing's daughter Alice), who are seemingly determined to save Moon Films and preserve the Canvel legacy. Alice de Lencquesaing is a revelation in an incredibly mature and composed turn. Clémence’s solemnity and composure in difficult circumstances are reminiscent of her father’s character; and by seeking solace in film, she is undoubtedly her father’s daughter. Effectively, Ms. Hansen-Løve conveys the stark realities of the aftermath of a moment of fallibility, exposing the emotional fallout that invariably settles on those closest to home.

Ms. Hansen-Løve’s emotive and nuanced tale also serves as a tribute to the dedication of the trailblazers of the art-house scene. Grégoire’s unwavering devotion to his art — even in the face of uncompromising obstacles — is as rousing as it is foolhardy. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing lends Grégoire a credible yet fractured persona that goes a long way to explain his actions, even if Ms. Hansen-Løve teasingly and deliberately leaves a number of questions unanswered. Mr. de Lencquesaing is more than ably supported by his daughter Alice, who effectively shares the lead; she’s moodily distant yet tender and vulnerable.

“The Father of My Children” is a heart wrenching, beautiful, confident and superbly acted study of a family wrenched apart by despair and fragility. It’s a subtle and poignant picture that confirms that Ms. Hansen-Løve is a filmmaker of real promise.


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