Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love
Films depicting the film world have the same engrossing quality as films, for that cosmos is exciting and glamorous; it’s about stars and art and money. Most little kids yearn to be famous movie stars when they grow up, so a film about the people who actually inhabit that inaccessible world plucks a thrill. In Mia Hansen Love’s new movie Le pere des mes enfants (Father of My Children), which she also wrote, Grégoire (Louis-Do De Lencquesaing) is a sexy, fortyish, irresistible producer of art house films. The films are so good, so original, that most flop at the box office, and the company is deep in debt with no hope of further credit anywhere.
The movie opens with the frenetic pace of Grégoire’s life, cell phone constantly to his ear, body in motion through the office as employees snag him for updates and decisions. It’s the same in his car as he heads to his country home for the weekend—he talks to his producers on sets. Then his wife calls: where are you? Should we wait dinner for you? Pressure pursues him from all sides, but we get the sense of his deep passion and commitment to work—its magic; it’s stronger pull than his interest in his family of five women: Sylvia his wife ( Chiara Caselli), Clémence his adolescent daughter (Alice de Lencquesaing), and Valentine and Billie, his precocious and delightful little girls (Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss). Without question he’s a loving husband and parent, devoted to his women and their well-being, but work tears him away, not just because he can’t resist it, but because of its overwhelming demands and now, financial crisis.
The film’s title Father of My Children suggests Sylvia as the protagonist, telling her story about what happened, but this is not the case. The story is Grégoire’s despite his “presence through absence” for the second half of the movie. It’s his life, his character, his denouement. The women are his family and what becomes of him profoundly affects them and their futures. His fate also creates the stage for some tremendous performances on the part of his women.
Not to give away entirely the plot of the movie, it serves a fine purpose of exploring one kind of suicide—the CEO kind, where financial disaster seemingly leaves no outlet for the powerless leader. Why are there no choices left for these types (when there might be for other types)? And why in the crashing rubble of their empire do they forget their loved ones. They aren’t to blame for forgetting, this movie makes clear, but their self-focus causes untold emotional harm within the family. Outwardly, Grégoire shows no sign of his destitution and despair, but rather converses optimistically to his accountant and creditors. He even takes on a new script by a young man he met on his way to the office. His inspiration for work, for film art is turned on, but the forces working against that drive eventually leave him no escape routes, or ones he personally can accept. The only inkling we have of his executive overload is when he’s driving to meet his family at their country home, against his instincts, for he has too much pressing work. He says to his daughter on the cell phone: “Anything nice to tell me?” Then, when the phone passes back to his wife he says, “Say something nice.” The girls tell her to say she loves him, and so she does: “Ti amo, ti adoro.” A tired droop of gratification crosses his face showing his need to hear something loving and supportive to sustain him.
Grégoire’s life and dilemma stays with us long after we’ve left the theater, as does the world with which his family is left, its cohesion and loving wholeness irreparably gouged by his departure. The script is too intelligent to fall into sentimentality; the emotions explored are live and believable.
For screening times visit the San Francisco International Film Festival http://fest10.sffs.org
© 2010 Gail Spilsbury, all rights reserved