Mar 16, 2010

Review Post 69: Father of my Children

DIR: Mia Hansen-Løve
CAST: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli,
Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss

She’s just 29 years old, and this is only her second film but, though Father of my Children is far from perfect, it is easy to tell that we will, in the future, be hearing from director Mia Hansen-Løve. She’s clearly a major talent. That talent still needs shaping, but once she’s got a few more films under her belt we could be talking about something very special.

The film was apparently inspired by a real life acquaintance of Hansen-Løve and her partner, filmmaker Olivier Assayas. It tells the story of Gregoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) an independent film producer who, facing insurmountable debts, kills himself and of the effect of this decision on his wife (Caselli) and three young daughters Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing), Valentine (Gautier) and Billie (Driss).

The most pressing problem, indeed the only major problem, with Father of my Children is really that there’s just a bit much of it. At 110 minutes it feels baggy, and there are several scenes here (Clemence’s ‘date’ with a young filmmaker, and several meetings about dealing with the film company’s debt come to mind) that add little to the film but running time. What Hansen-Løve appears to need is a strict editor, because with just ten or so minutes snipped the film would likely move a lot better. To be entirely fair though, this is a film that gets a great deal more right than it gets wrong.

Hansen-Løve’s screenplay and direction both achieve a beautifully unforced naturalism. The early scenes of Gregoire’s family life are a lot of fun, and they really allow us to warm to the characters. Moments like the two young children putting on a little play for their parents and older sibling are sweet without being cutesy, and more than that they are recognisably real slices of family life. The film also avoids painting these early scenes as idyllic; there are little signs of Gregoire’s problems, teenage Clemence has the occasional sulk, there are mild tensions between husband and wife, the kids aren’t always well behaved. It’s a very real depiction of family life, and it pays off because when you believe the incidentals everything else also feels real.

It also helps, of course, that the performances are extraordinary. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing and Chiara Caselli are both excellent, but this movie really belongs to the children. Young Alice Gautier, who can’t be more than nine years old, is perhaps best. Without overegging the emotion she’s quietly devastating, especially when, explaining that she doesn’t want to move to her mother’s native Italy, she says “we have to stay close to Daddy”. In an American film I suspect that Valentine would have been some super-smart kid; a mini adult really, but Hansen-Løve allows her, and the other young characters, just to be a child and the film is all the better for it. Alice de Lencquesaing, as Clemence, has a role that grows throughout the film, and that seems to be true of the confidence of her performance as well, with each passing scene she becomes more affecting. There’s much to enjoy, especially, in her smaller moments, like the way she silently relates to the children, which speaks volumes about the characters relationship to each other without a single word.

Slightly less interesting than how the family deals with the loss of Gregoire is the story dealing with the wrapping up of his company. It provides some poignant moments (such as when the children take things from their father’s office, and say goodbye to the people in the office “Goodbye, Mr liquidator”). But it’s here that the film plods a bit.

Whatever its weaknesses, Father of my Children is still an impressive piece of work, and Mia Hansen-Løve is clearly a talented filmmaker. Like Andrea Arnold, she has an eye for an attractive image, but manages to find them without surrendering her film’s naturalism, and she’s drawn extraordinary performances from her cast, particularly the inexperienced youngsters and there is much here to enjoy and to be moved by.

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