Father of My Children
Review by Michael Edwards
THERE’S something quite beautiful about this film. The poignant story of film producer Gregoire Canvel is one of humanity, obsession, and despair which could easily have become a wry commentary in the mould of What Just Happened?, the average film about producer Ben based on the memoirs of Art Linson and starring Robert de Niro.
But rather than playing up how the multi-faceted tasks of the producer gradually break down normality in both difficult and amusing ways, writer/director Mia Hansen-Lżve chooses to show the role as one for an obsessive cinephile with boundless energy, one for people who love people, but, ultimately, one which can have tragic consequences.
The benefit of this is that the underlying humanity of Gregoire, and the life he has created for himself, makes the film much more accessible.
It’s a story about film, and what it really means to want to be part of their creation, but it is also the story of a charming, charismatic man who loves his family and makes every effort to hold it together as he vigorously continues his attempts to make films.
Another great thing about Father of My Children is that the drama is not solely based on the (existential) situation of its lead character, because it is soon revealed that his actual situation is infinitely more perilous.
His company, Moon Films, is struggling and the talented (but predictably diva-ish) director of the latest arthouse film he is championing is playing up, and costing the company more money by the day.
The potential collapse of everything Gregoire has worked for weighs down heavily upon him, and though he battles with his usual mix of savoir fair and well-hidden stoicism, it gradually begins to crush him.
Once it becomes clear where the dramatic conclusion of the film lies, the story quickly moves onto a dissection of Gregoire’s various facets: something a little more dry for those who are nonplussed about the mechanics of the film industry.
There remains an element of emotional familial drama, but it is vastly overshadowed by the extent to which Mia Hansen-Lżve dismantles Gregoire with all of the joy and flair of a live autopsy.
Despite being emotionally intricate and cleverly constructed, this film is in some ways undone by its own desire to be humane in its musings on the creatures that inhabit the world of film.
This desire mainly manifests itself in the need to appear real, which at once hurls us directly into the heart of the situation – amping up the drama and character identification as it does so – and significantly reduces the visual impact of the complex character constructs which we are identifying with.
The overall effect is that while we are skillfully made to care about the people on screen, their somewhat unique lifestyles rarely look as exciting and interesting as they theoretically should be.
So, if its intelligent, brilliantly-performed human drama that you’re looking for, or if you’re interested in an in-depth analysis of the kind of mind that obsessively needs to create, then Father of My Children is a journey you must go on.
But for those who require a dash of the surreal, and a heavy dose of interpretive visual flair, be warned that this film is one that relentless stands by its desire for realism.
In French with English subtitles
Running time: 111mins
UK DVD Release: June 21, 2010