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: