Monday, July 19, 2010

Father of My Children (2009, Mia Hansen-Løve)

When we first meet Grégoire Canvel, the protagonist of Father of My Children, he’s juggling two cell phones in an attempt to resolve the problems of the day. Grégoire (played by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is a film producer who specializes in backing brilliant but prickly filmmakers most producers wouldn’t touch- a figure inspired by the late Humbert Balsan, who backed difficult projects by Lars Von Trier, Bela Tarr, Clare Denis, and others. Why does Grégoire do this? It’s partly because he cares more deeply about cinema than his colleagues, and partly because he sees himself as an underdog, fighting the good fight for art over the bottom line. But because of the nature of the job, virtually every day brings a new crisis, and when this is the case the only reasonable response is to deal with the immediate crisis, lest one go nuts from fear of what’s going to appear on the horizon.

Trouble is, Grégoire’s in-the-moment fixes are beginning to catch up with him. He’s running out of money, favors, and goodwill. Filmmakers still seek him out because they don’t know where else to turn, but how will he fund their work with no money? His dream is die, a massive crisis for with no available solution that doesn’t leave him hanging out to dry. A man whose livelihood has depended on his ability to find quick resolutions, Grégoire can only contemplate one possible way out. It’s often said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but in light of the decisions Grégoire has made throughout the film, it’s more or less inevitable that he’d end up that way.

Father of My Children would be pretty grim indeed if all it was was the story of one man’s downward spiral. However, Hansen-Løve has more on her mind than Grégoire Canvel’s demise. Instead, Canvel dies roughly halfway through the story, with the remaining duration devoted to his family’s behavior in the way of tragedy. Suicide may remove Grégoire’s need to deal with his problems, but the problems themselves remain, and his widow Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) does her best to manage the crises he left behind and resolve them in a way that honors his memory. Meanwhile, daughter Clemence (played by de Lencquesaing’s own daughter Alice) finds herself making discoveries both about her father and herself. Tragedy places both Sylvia and Clemence in a position where they must reveal parts of themselves they wouldn’t have needed to otherwise, and while they don’t always succeed in their new goals, they forge on in a way that Grégoire could not, and Hansen-Løve clearly admires their efforts. Father of My Children doesn’t exactly tell a new story, but it tells its story gracefully and great subtlety, which is just as rare a commodity as originality.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

No comments: