Le père de mes enfants (The Father of My Children)

Le père de mes enfants (The Father of My Children)
Editor’s Note: The fol­low­ing review and the recor­ded Q&A both con­tain what might be con­sidered spoil­ers. Although I don’t con­sider this film one that requires the viewer to go in com­pletely blind, con­sider your­self fore­warned.

Le père de mes enfants (The Father of My Children) (Director: Mia Hansen-Løve): Grégoire Canvel is a har­ried wheeler-dealer of a film pro­du­cer with a lov­ing wife and three beau­ti­ful daugh­ters. But he can barely find the time to see them with the never-end­ing demands of his job. Although he has all the trap­pings of suc­cess, includ­ing a house in the coun­tryside, his com­pany is facing bank­ruptcy due to years of accu­mu­lat­ing debt. To make mat­ters worse, he is in the midst of a film shoot with a demand­ing Swedish auteur who doesn’t know the mean­ing of the word “budget.” Although this sounds like a farce, it quickly becomes a tragedy.

Grégoire is over­ex­ten­ded in every way. He’s facing fin­an­cial ruin and per­sonal burnout, but he can’t seem to stop. Played with shaggy charm by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, he is the centre of the world for both his employ­ees and his fam­ily, but it’s wear­ing him out. Halfway through the film, he takes his own life. Though I can’t speak for the entire audi­ence, this hit me hard because after spend­ing not even an hour with him, I’d grown to love him too. You can see how a char­ac­ter like this could coast along for years without tak­ing care of his fin­ances. He was sup­port­ing artists and the com­merce part came second. Admirable, but tra­gic­ally fool­ish.

Understandably, the second part of the film loses a tre­mend­ous amount of momentum. His wife Sylvia takes over his fail­ing com­pany and tries to keep it afloat, though more to tie up loose ends rather than any real desire. His old­est daugh­ter, teen­aged Clémence (played by Alice de Lencquesaing, the real-life daugh­ter of Louis-Do) floats through her grief, cul­tiv­at­ing her own interest in film and dis­cov­er­ing some secrets about her father. Critics have been keen to point out this change of tone and pace as a weak­ness in the film, but I’m not sure it isn’t entirely inten­tional. The film flails without the pres­ence of the man every­one loved, and to me that’s a brave rep­res­ent­a­tion of the empti­ness left by Grégoire’s death.

The film is crammed with lovely details which give it the tex­ture of an authen­tic life. The scenes of the fam­ily together are heart­break­ingly idyllic in the begin­ning, and just heart­break­ing by the end. The children’s dia­logue, their games and their rela­tion­ship with their father are all won­der­fully nat­ural, and the per­form­ances, espe­cially by the chil­dren, are extremely strong. In the post-screen­ing Q&A, pro­du­cer David Thion explained that the story, though fic­tional, was a response to the real-life sui­cide of French pro­du­cer Humbert Balsan. He said that Hansen-Løve was work­ing out her own feel­ings of grief and loss, and per­haps, I might add, try­ing to show her­self and the rest of us what is really import­ant.

Director Mia Hansen-Løve is in the lat­ter stages of preg­nancy and couldn’t travel to the fest­ival. Here is the Q&A with pro­du­cer David Thion from after the screen­ing:

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Duration: 16:05

8/10(8/10)

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