The Father of my Children
- Tom Dawson
- 2 March 2010
A charming and popular middle-aged man, Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) appears to lead an enviable life. Happily married to the Italian Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) with whom he has three daughters, Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing from Summer Hours), Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss), he runs a respected company in Paris that produces independent films from around the world. However, his work problems are mounting: the Swedish shoot of Saturn is running behind schedule and the crew are threatening to strike over unpaid wages, and Gregoire already owes millions of euros to various banks, creditors and film labs. Sinking into despair, he resorts to a drastic plan.
Inspired by the fate of French producer Humbert Balsan, this impressively mature second feature from writer-director Mia Hansen-Love’s is both a convincing portrait of the punishing realities of funding arthouse cinema and an affecting study of a family coping with an unexpected bereavement.
In less skilful hands the raw material of The Father of My Children might easily have resulted in a sentimental tearjerker, but in this film of two distinct halves Hansen-Love favours a fluid, elliptical style of storytelling, in which important dramatic events remain unseen and in which the narrative focus shifts away from Gregoire to Sylvia and then to Clémence. In contrast to the frantic pace of Gregoire’s overburdened professional life – he’s a man in constant motion, a mobile phone invariably clamped to one ear – there are also moments of quiet beauty, not least when the girls swim in the milky waters of a Tuscan rock pool during a summer break. Music is used sparingly yet effectively in the film, with songs such as Doris Day singing ‘Que Sera Sera’ and Johnny Leydon’s ‘Johnny Remember Me’ evoking the feelings of the characters. Above all the naturalistic performances possess a moving truthfulness, particularly those of the real-life father and daughter combination of Louis-Do and Alicia de Lencquesaing.
GFT, Glasgow and Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 5 Mar.