Father of My Children Deserves Cannes Accolades

The Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants)
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Les Films Pélleas, in French with subtitles,110 mins.
* * * * *
This film won the Jury Special Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Set in Paris, Grégoire Canvel, a happily married father of three daughters, plays a struggling independent film producer for Moon Studios who juggles family life with his increasingly failing projects. For years he has supported a small film laboratory and wilfully obscure film auteurs but things are getting worse: he’s out of money, banks are seeking to collect on his soaring debt, and his family is frustrated by his obsessions. Somehow he seems to cope but it becomes evident that things are getting worse. On a vacation forced upon him by his wife we see him glued to his cell phone—much to the annoyance of all around him. On his return to Paris, he realizes he can no longer keep this balance. He takes his car into the French village, burns some correspondence, and shoots himself.

This is the first half of the film: slow, deliberate, exacting and detailed—his two lives, coiled around each other like snakes poised to attack each other. Brilliantly filmed as only the French can do in a Rohmer- and Truffault-style, Grégoire’s suicide is almost too shocking to visualize. Wisely Hansen-Love cuts from any discovery of the body or lingering sadness over the funeral, to the struggles involved with Moon Pictures, its remaining business problems, and his family’s attempt to cope. It seems Canvel was a father not only to his own children, but to Moon’s extended family: directors, lab technicians, office staff, aspirant documentarians….

Canvel is played with damaged intensity by Louis-Do de Lancquesaing, and his wife Sylvia by Chiara Caselli, who shows remarkable restraint in her devastation over the tragedy as she tries to save the company. The oldest daughter is de Lancquesaing’s actual thirteen-year-old offspring, Alice, adrift in adolescence, tormented by her loss, struggling to understand the depression that drove her father to end everything, resistant to moving to Italy as suggested by her mother. A long take in which the family drives out of Paris and Alice may be seeing the city for the last time, was excruciating to watch. We witness her fighting back tears over everything that has happened as her new life stretches out in front of her.

Sometime Cahiers du Cinema critic Mia Hansen-Løve made an impressive debut with her 2007 feature *Everything Is Forgiven.* Only 27, her assured screenplay is based loosely on the life of French film producer Humbert Balsan, who committed suicide himself and Hansen-Løve was a victim of the cutbacks after that tragedy. After the recent Oscars awards, it’s criminal that this feature was ignored. This film should not be missed.

Lloyd Sellus

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