It takes a little while to get an emotional handle on Mia Hansen-Love’s contemporary drama The Father of My Children. The diffuseness seems somewhat appropriate, though, because it mirrors the disconnect of the main character, Parisian movie producer Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Dominique de Lencquesaing). Long ago, the mogul (who specializes in financially risky European arthouse films) partially severed emotional ties to those around him, including his devoted wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), and his three loving daughters. Work now engulfs Gregoire -- to such a degree that when he whisks his family off on a luxurious vacation to the Italian countryside (more out of necessity than interest), he keeps his cell phone on, and spends the bulk of his time gabbing into it incessantly. On a more troubling note, Gregoire has lost touch with the lofty artistic ambitions that initially buoyed his production efforts. He spends his days immersed in deal-making and attempted financial wizardry -- attempted, that is, because a mountain of debt now towers over Gregoire and threatens to come toppling down and crush his production company, Moon Films.
Gregoire’s problem is that he has begun to pin his own sense of self-worth exclusively on professional success -- and when he reaches a point of no return, where the only logical steps are bankruptcy and liquidation, it represents far more than the poor fellow can handle, and sets the stage for overwhelming tragedy.
The movie’s impressiveness lies in the aplomb with which Hansen-Love etches out the various phases of Canvel’s self-deluded attitude and subsequent disillusionment, and the equally fine skill with which she shows the family coping with the aftermath of the tragedy. In the later phases of the film, she deftly balances psychological material -- persuasively wrought glimpses of Sylvia and her daughters’ emotional struggles -- with the day-to-day impracticalities of the situation thrust onto the family. It is here that the movie falters, just slightly: a subplot about Sylvia’s noble attempts to salvage Moon Films remains gripping and engaging (and commendably ends on a credible note), but another subplot that involves one of the daughters unearthing secrets from her father’s past feels underdeveloped, and fails to even resolve itself. If Hansen-Love is going to include this material, she should see it through to its logical conclusion instead of abandoning it midway.
Fortunately, this represents a somewhat minor flaw, and it is one of omission, not ineptitude -- in the sense that we simply want to see more of the subplot about the daughter. This aside, the film as a whole demonstrates an intuitive understanding of the characters, their motivations, their limitations, and their personal growth, both individually and collectively. Furthermore, both Hansen-Love’s masterful direction and expert performances by the entire ensemble deeply enrich the material.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: It takes a little while to get an emotional handle on Mia Hansen-Love’s contemporary drama The Father of My Children. The diffuseness seems somewhat appropriate, though, because it mirrors the disconnect of the main character, Parisian movie producer Grego… (more)