The Father of My Children *** ½
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Written By: Mia Hansen-Løve.
Starring: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (Grégoire Canvel), Chiara Caselli (Sylvia Canvel), Alice de Lencquesaing (Clémence Canvel), Alice Gautier (Valentine Canvel), Manelle Driss (Billie Canvel), Eric Elmosnino (Serge), Sandrine Dumas (Valérie), Dominique Frot (Bérénice), Antoine Mathieu (Frédéric), Igor Hansen-Løve (Arthur Malkavian), Elsa Pharaon (Colette), Olivia Ross (Anja).
The Father of My Children tells the story of an essentially good man, who reaches the end of his rope. It tells this story without dipping into melodrama, or becoming a psychological study, but simply presents us this man, and his family, and watches them for a while.
The man is Gregorie Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and he is the head of a small, indepedant film studio in Paris. If you are an acclaimed director, and no one else wants to make your film, you can go to Gregoire and he’ll somehow find you the money to do it. And that is probably why his studio is failing. He owes money to everyone, his latest production is director by a vain, egotisical Swedish director (obviously based on the Danish director Lars von Trier) whose epic production is running way over schedule and budget, and whose crew is on the verge of mutiny. For years Gregoire has been leveraging everything the studio has – especially the catalogue of films it produced – to get the money to make new ones – but this seems to have reached the end of the line. His creditors want to be paid, and they are tired of waiting. They have cut Gregoire as much slack as they have because they like him so much – everyone likes him. He is the kind of guy who puts his neck on the line for everyone. But sooner or later, it all catches up with him.
In addition to seeing Gregoire at work, we also see him at home. His wife Syliva (Chiara Caselli) loves and supports him – even when she gets sick and tired of him always being on the phone putting out one fire after another. His three daughters, especially the oldest Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing, who yes, is the daughter of the star) love him as well. His enthusiasm is infectious, and his family and his workers are all willing to cut him more slack than they would with probably anyone else.
The film is strange in that it seems to be cut into two – the shocking end to the first act is where most movies would end. But writer director Mia Hansen-Love is interested in more than most directors. She doesn’t end the film at the point that makes the most sense – but pushes on farther. And its that push that I think makes The Father of My Children a special film. It goes beyond what we expect, and ends in a place that is surprisingly touching.
Gregoire takes the easy way out. It is a selfish act he does half way through the film, and yet there are almost no moments where anyone really gets mad at him. He was too lovable, too committed, too passionate – and he inspired loyalty in people. They may not have shared his vision, but they wanted to help him achieve what he set out to do. I can’t think of another film that quite works the way this one does. The one that comes to mind is Oliver Assayas’ Summer Hours (Hansen-Love got her start as an actress in Assayas’ films, and is now married to him) which was also a strange film about a family, that goes beyond what most films of its sort do. The Father of My Children is a tribute to cinema, to family and to this man, based on a real life producer who helped Hansen-Love early in her directing career, and ended up just like Gregoire.