March 30, 2011

DVD OF THE WEEK: Father of My Children

by Vadim Rizov

Father of My Children

Father of My Children was inspired by producer Humbert Balsan's 2005 suicide. Before his death, Balsan's company was set to produce Mia Hansen-Løve's first feature All Is Forgiven, thereby raising her name to the ranks of his prestigious collaborators: Lars Von Trier, Claire Denis, Youssef Chahine, Elia Suleiman, et al. Here, he's imagined as producer Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), largely dedicated to financing the terminally underseen and marginally profitable, perpetually on the run, driving badly while taking calls, dealing with spiraling problems on multiple productions. His attention to family is equally intense and fragmentary: what he's really worried about is as unknown to his children as to the audience. Frantically walking down the sidewalk, he barely stops long enough to shoot himself, a shocking moment no more understandable for being seen. Such is the grim premise for this uplifting movie. "I seem to remember reading a text by Eric Rohmer in which he quotes Stendhal as referring to the 'slightly abrupt clarity' that might define French art," Hansen-Løve noted in an interview. "I look for clarity because it's what moves me." Here are five scenes where her characters experience those moments:

Father of My ChildrenItalian vacation. Gregoire is overly dedicated to his vocation/calling: in the opening minutes, he loses his driving rights temporarily, preoccupied as he is not with the road but with two different cell phone transactions (and also smoking). On retreat with his family in Italy, he relaxes, delivering a laid-back discourse on an abandoned castle's history. The site is revisited by the clan after his death, now with an extra layer of personal remembrance grafted on top of the historical material. Gregoire's full attention while bonding with his family is hard-earned: he keeps running into the woods to take phone calls until his wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) stops him. She takes it as disproportionate, work-absorbed monomania, but the walls really are closing in.

Suicide. Gregoire barely stops walking fast enough to off himself; his final moments are an agitated frenzy of burning papers and marching the sidewalk. By way of contrast, Hansen-Løve's first film, All Is Forgiven, elides the big event entirely. We get to see family man Victor's (Paul Blain) cocaine/heroin-fueled downward spiral and post-rehab attempts, 11 years later, at reconciling with his daughter Pamela. The realization he needs to clean up and subsequent treatment are not shown and entirely unexplained; it's too internal a process to try to depict externally. Here, we get the moment of decision and execution, but it's no more understandable for being illustrated.

Father of My Children Coffee shop. When Gregoire dies, the family moves back to Paris so his wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) can wrap up his remaining productions and shut the company down. Older daughter Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing) never enjoyed staying in the country; back in Paris, she happily roams, taking in some movies and hooking up with Arthur (Igor Hansen-Løve), a young filmmaker whose feature script is left in the lurch when Gregoire dies. ("I appear in the character of Arthur," Mia noted of the part played by her brother, "but this young filmmaker could just as easily be someone else.") Clemence's morning-after scene—perkily ordering coffee before getting on with her day—shows Hansen-Løve's ability to embed moments of emotional clarity into mundane daily tasks. Clemence is euphoric, but she still needs caffeine before getting back to her normal routine.

Swedish tour. Sylvie goes off to check in with a Swedish film production behind schedule and over-budget. Instead of commiserating, the director gives her a lecture about how Sylvie's late husband, for all his flaws, was willing to give him the space to realize his vision. It's an egotistical speech, but it rings true to the world of artists (perhaps deservedly) run amok. Father dives into the nuts-and-bolts of French filmmaking, from the POV of the stressed true believers financing it. It's reminiscent of Irma Vep's opening (a film made by Hansen-Løve's fiancée Olivier Assayas), where testy producers and assistants try to figure out what to do with actress Maggie Cheung when she arrives unexpectedly early, a problem far removed from any actual sets or completed films. The visits to Italy and Sweden in this film pep things up, but they also nicely underline Hansen-Løve's portrait of how festival movies get made: money is funneled every which way, equally financing Korean and Swedish cinema.

Father of My Children "Que Sera, Sera." The Father of My Children repeatedly returns to a persuasive portrait of day-to-day film business practices, but as Sylvie immerses herself in the world that sucked up her husband, the story increasingly moves on to other concerns, as the family prepares to leave behind that part of their lives completely. As Doris Day's famous song proposes over the final shot—Sylvia and the girls leaving Paris in a taxi, destination unknown—surrendering control and putting up with whatever happens while trying to stay cheerful is a worthy goal.

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Posted by ahillis at March 30, 2011 12:13 PM