Cinephilia and the tug of domesticity are contending themes in Mia Hansen-Løve's entrancing drama about an indie film producer in Paris. Deeply affecting without being maudlin, The Father of My Children offers realistic portraits of family life and the business of small-scale moviemaking by dramatizing their toll on one man devoted to his wife and children and to midwifing celluloid babies. The satisfactions of engendering quality arthouse product will be felt intensely by viewers, but this labor of love won't provide much financial succor to its backers-at least not stateside. They'll have to make do with aesthetic comforts.
The Father of My Children is a protean charmer just like Grégoire Canvel, the title character modeled on the late Humbert Balsan, who was slated to produce Hansen-Løve's first film All Is Forgiven before dying in 2005. Ms. Hansen-Løve found the ideal collaborator for her homage in actor Louis-Do de Lencquesaing (and from wherever he's watching, Mr. Balsan is surely flattered and moved). De Lencquesaing perfectly embodies the dashing, persuasive and unmistakably Gallic impresario of Moon Films, a small (fictional) production company with approximately fifty titles to its credit and no money in the bank.
We meet Grégoire as the pressures, financial and otherwise, are taking a toll. The handsome forty-something cuts a charismatic yet harried figure-always on the move, chain-smoking, clad in a stylish shirt and suit, sans cravat. He's got three pictures in various stages of production, a Korean crew arriving to scout locations and he owes his longtime film lab a million Euros. A temperamental but visionary Swedish director whom he's agreed to produce is, not surprisingly, going way over budget. In the past, Grégoire has been able to finesse people and things in order to make movies he feels strongly about. He's taken chances and been rewarded with critical praise and a sense of professional fulfillment, as well as a nice life. That may no longer be the case. Tension builds as he fields calls, deals with bankers and encourages a budding screenwriter.
On top of it all, he's promised his Italian wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), a vacation in Ravenna with their three daughters. Grégoire can't always make time for them, but he typically makes up for it by being a doting and amusing father and spouse. At this juncture, however, he's unable to focus and Sylvia becomes angry. Back in Paris, his air of nonchalance and control starts to dissipate. When he reaches out to Sylvia she's supportive. Will it be enough? The sense of foreboding is palpable. During the second half, attention turns to Sylvia and the couple's eldest, young-adult daughter Clemence, superbly played by Louis-Do's daughter Alice de Lencquesaing.
Of course, Grégoire's situation is not unique to the moviemaking profession. Balancing work and family is a universal challenge and Hansen-Løve's naturalistic style captures the nitty-gritty, quotidian realities of both spheres of a person's life, while also functioning on a broader metaphorical level. Her lack of pretension and artifice may mask the film's multivalent lucidity though not its powerful impact. The idea that movies are a trifle when compared to real life is dangled then shattered by The Father of My Children. Grégoire's love of film lives on, and ours is deepened.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss, Eric Elmosnino, Sandrine Dumas and Dominique Frot
Director/Screenwriter: Mia Hansen-Løve
Producers: Philippe Martin, David Thion and Olivier Damian
Genre: Drama; French-language, subtitled
Running time: 110 min.
Release date: May 21LA, May 28 NY