Dir: Mia Hansen-Løve Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Eric Elmosnino
Hansen-Løve was inspired to create The Father of My Children following the tragic suicide of Humbert Balsan in 2005. Balsan was a prolific producer and one of the most respected figures in French cinema, and his suicide sent shock waves through the industry, but the fact that one of those waves resulted in this beautiful and touching film will surely stand as a testament to his spirited life.
The film follows ‘Gregoire’ (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) as he struggles to keep Moon Films afloat. This is no colourful and romanticised vision of the film industry (as Gene Kelly and Pedro Almodovar would have us see it); it is a realistic and almost mundane insight into the artistic alienation and financial suffocation that great producers suffer from. Gregoire is a champion of artists, and is happy to take huge personal gambles to produce the work of filmmakers he respects, but it is a thankless job infested with conceited directors, dispassionate financiers, and unforgiving bank managers. Eventually the stress becomes too much to bear, and Gregoire shoots himself.
It is at this point that the ode to independent cinema ends and the Lorca-inspired tale of grief begins. Gregoire’s wife Sylvia (Caselli) enlists the help of Gregoire’s closest friends to save Moon Films and finish the films currently in production. It is a brutally pragmatic approach to grief and Caselli’s performance ensures that it is moving and subtle. The other focus of this exploration of grief is Gregoire’s sulking but passionate teenage daughter Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing). Clémence is at that age where she is trying to distance herself from her parents, and having her father stolen from her at such a disorientating time makes her a fascinating study in repressed anguish. She escapes into the city of Paris, immersing herself in the cafes and cinemas that she loves; but it is clear that these adventures are far scarier than she would have wished without a father to return home to at the weekends.
This is not as tightly honed a film as some of the masterful European films released this year. Gregoire’s descent towards suicide feels slightly too assured, and the honesty of the film loses its way slightly as it rushes towards this major plot point. And after his suicide the film begins to lose its way slightly in the exploration of grief that perhaps proved a bit of a stretch for the young and relatively inexperienced Hansen-Løve.
But it is possible to forgive any of these structural flaws because of the wonderfully evocative and warm-hearted nature of the film. It is rambling, but it is sweet throughout; and it shares that effortless cinema-verite aesthetic and indescribable ‘watchability’ that comes so naturally to French cinema (I am thinking of Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge and Code Inconnu here.) It is a moving tribute to a great producer, but it is also a superb and sincere testament to the beauty that can still exist in the cinema.