REVIEW: DVD Release: Father Of My Children

Film: Father Of My Children
Release date: 21st June 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 110 mins
Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Starring: Chiara Caselli, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss, Eric Elmosnino, Sandrine Dumas, Dominique Frot
Genre: Drama
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: France

Loosely based on the real-life story of film producer Humbert Baslan, writer-director Mia Hansen-Love’s 2009 drama looks at how the family unit responds to unexpected tragedy.

Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is a man who seems to have everything he could possibly want: a loving wife (Chiara Caselli), three charming daughters in Clemence, Valentine and Billie (Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss, respectively) and a rewarding career as a producer of films he believes passionately in.

This heavenly lifestyle, where he moves between Paris, an idyllic country house and various film sets isn’t quite so perfect, however, and evidence begins to mount of GrĂ©goire’s financial troubles. As an independent film producer he prefers to place art above profit, and this leads him into an increasingly daunting spiral of debt and legal problems.

GrĂ©goire’s Italian wife Sylvia, though occasionally impatient with his workaholic tendencies, is as supportive as you could hope for a spouse to be, but as Father Of My Children makes shockingly clear at its midpoint, sometimes people make choices that seem, if not inexplicable, then hard to rationalise in human terms…

Opening with a montage showing busy Parisian streets set to a soundtrack of 'Egyptian Reggae' by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Father Of My Children immediately engages the viewer with its upbeat tone and unfussy, straightforward cinematography. Hansen-Love never pushes this positive mood in the opening scenes of the film too hard, but it makes the film’s second, far more downbeat half all the more poignant.

What makes Father Of My Children so effective is the way Hansen-Love constructs a story that abruptly shifts from the simple joys of family life to the grief that follows the film’s central tragedy, without seeming in any way disjointed or contrived. The background of Gregoire’s troubles creates a context for the tragedy, but when it occurs, it is still a massive jolt.

Where many other filmmakers would lapse into melodrama and sentiment, Hansen-Love offers a series of thoughtfully observed vignettes that show how different family members respond to an event that dramatically alters the course of their lives. While Sylvia struggles to make sense of the tragedy, and take care of business-related affairs, she also has to deal with the pain felt by her daughters, each of whom responds differently, and in a manner that is perfectly consistent with earlier character developments.

The screenplay is exceptionally well written, and Hansen-Love proves herself a master storyteller in the way she interweaves subtle nuances and moments of levity into a film that, in crude terms, is ultimately dominated and split into two halves by the abrupt tragedy at its centre. There is, for example, a wonderful scene in Gregoire’s office in the latter half of the film, in which his two youngest daughters Billie and Valentine impishly play and explore. As they leave the office with their mother and elder sister Clemence, they cheerfully bid farewell to a nonplussed lawyer with the words: “Goodbye Mr. Liquidator.”

Every single member of the cast makes the most of the screenplay, and all of them deliver highly convincing, naturalistic performances. In particular, you have to wonder how Hansen-Love, herself only in her late twenties, managed to coax such believable performances from Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss as Gregoire’s two youngest daughters - add their ages together and you’re probably only just into double figures, but both appear hugely talented beyond their years.

The overall tone and message of the film is wonderfully summed up in the closing scene, in which we see Sylvia and her three daughters driving off in car, with Doris Day’s version of Que Sera Sera as the soundtrack. The trauma they have gone through has clearly marked each one of them, but whatever will be, will be, and we gain a sense that a person is defined not by their death, or how they died, but by how they lived and what they meant, and will continue to mean to us.

Achingly sad and deeply moving, but also, in its own distinctive way, imbued with a life-affirming positivism and a determination to go on, Father Of My Children marks Mia Hansen-Love out as a remarkable talent in European cinema. JG

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