Father Of My Children (Le père de mes enfants)
France (2009) Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
We’ve seen many films about the film industry which have taken us behind the scenes of the whole filmmaking process from the point of view of the actor, director, screenwriter, etc. but one role which is rarely featured is the producer.
In the case of Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) of the internationally renowned Moon Films, the job of producer involves securing investment for a film, finding a distributor, establishing good working relationships with film development laboratories, acquiring scripts, discovering new writing talent and keeping the bank manager happy.
Grégoire juggles this whilst maintaining a healthy family life with his loyal wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and their three daughters Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing), Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss). However when a film from a difficult and niche audience Swedish director goes over budget and pushes the company funds heavily into the red, Grégoire finds it difficult to cope.
The title hardly seems relevant to the subject matter upon reading the above summary but it makes perfect sense once a pivotal mid film event throws the entire story on its head. I won’t reveal what it is but it comes seemingly from nowhere and disrupts the whole tone and direction of the film for both the audience and the characters.
Director Mia Hansen-Løve appears to be something of a prodigious talent insofar as being able to make a film which has a world weariness and morbid finality about it which one would find in the works of a veteran filmmaker nearing his end, not from a 27 year-old (as she was at the time) making her second film.
Made as a tribute to late French producer Humbert Balsan, with whom Hansen-Løve was due to work before his passing, there seems to be an ambiguity about its thematic purpose. Was this intended to inculcate on the job of the producer and the stresses and sacrifices they make for a film to be made? Perhaps Hansen-Løve was trying to garner sympathy towards producers as their work is behind the scenes.
Or maybe this was simply a tribute to a mentor and Hansen-Løve wanted to share with us the world he left behind as she sees it. We also must examine how this film also lifts the lid on the art vs. profit battle which is prevalent in film making now and forever. It was this very ideal that drove the formerly buoyant Moon Films into debt and the unflappable Grégoire into despair, the film Saturn being that “one project too many”.
The Swedish director Stig Janson (Magne-Håvard Brekke) has yet to have a commercial hit whilst his reputation for exacting working methods is notorious, hence trouble in getting backing. Grégoire thinks Stig is a genius and he just needs this one breakthrough film. It is Grégoire’s reputation on the line but Stig selfishly refuses to acknowledge this and when the brown stuff hits the fan, Stig is still only concerned about his film.
And so it is that the daily reports from the set of Saturn, that actors and crew have been fired, footage scrapped, locations changed and other indulgent frivolities on Stig’s part that all sources of credit for Grégoire have been exhausted. Moon Film’s have already mortgaged their catalogue to the hilt, the development labs are hanging out for overdue payments, and Grégoire himself is contemplating borrowing from his family.
It doesn’t get that far however but what Grégoire does next has a devastating impact on his family, friends and colleagues. This is where Hansen-Løve’s probing intentions become clearer – what about those on the outside who are suddenly drawn into this messy situation? How do two girls barely close to double figures in age and a teenager get to reconcile the fallout of their father’s actions? And how about the long-suffering wife – is her suffering over or has it just begun?
From here we explore what kind of man Grégoire really was and whether people really knew him at all. Skeleton’s fall out of the closet and illusions are shattered but the mystery remains of how much of this was human folly or calculated deception. We could also extend this to question whether the high flying life of a successful film producer was a catalyst or the true culprit if the latter explanation were true.
Don’t expect any answers however, Hansen-Løve does not intend to provide any as, perhaps this is true reason for this film, she has none and is just as confused as everyone else is. While she nails certain points with painfully gut wrenching accuracy, there is an odd clinical detachment to her exploration which sets this back a few steps from being completely revelatory.
The first twenty plus minutes are spent promoting the idyllic life the Canvel family live at Grégoire’s expense but it is wonderfully natural, courtesy of the uncomplicated and unfettered performances of the two youngest cast members Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss. Even after the crisis point, they continue this way as only youngsters can, providing a beacon of light amid the darkness of reality their mother must negotiate.
Chiara Caselli portrays Sylvia as the leveller in Grégoire’s otherwise busy professional life, a role suffused with steely determination in the later going. It must have been hard for Alice de Lencquesaing to play opposite her own father in this scenario, but the reward is ours in the denouement which she effortlessly steals. Meanwhile dad Louis-Do creates a believable everyman character in Grégoire, flaws and all.
In a film about responding to a crisis, Father Of My Children tends to keep the fallout and emotional suffering on a tight leash, in favour of a trenchant self-examination of the film industry. However we do learn a lot about the producer’s role while the drama is thankfully safe from mawkish sentimentality.
Remarkably astute for such a young director but requires a little more depth towards its core subject to fully engage on a highly emotional level.