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Movie review: 'The Father of My Children'

The French film about a man in crisis is an extraordinarily humanistic drama, thanks to writer-director Mia Hansen-Love.

May 21, 2010|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

"The Father of My Children" showcases a vividly authentic look at the way movies are made, but you would never call it a film about filmmaking. And while its plot pivots around a melodramatic event, it is anything but a melodrama.

Instead, what French writer-director Mia Hansen-Love has created is an extraordinarily empathetic humanistic drama, a film of love, joy, sadness and hope that understands how complex our emotions are and does beautiful justice to them.

The father of the title is producer Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), the head of Moon Films, a prominent Paris-based production company that's been in business for years.

Unflappable, with a fine sense of humor and a gift for dealing with people, Grégoire is always on one or both of his cellphones, forever facing fires that have to be put out, whether they involve toilets that don't work or Koreans who have to be placated.

Although producers are invariably the villains of movies about the movie business, Grégoire is presented as a champion of filmmakers, someone who takes risks for those he believes in. As his open-necked dress shirts and expensive suits indicate, Grégoire comes from a wealthy family that thinks films are vulgar, but he and the movies are so made for each other that he has never doubted his choice of profession.

Though he often arrives late, Grégoire never misses a weekend in the country with his Italian wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), and their daughters, teenager Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing, the real-life daughter of Louis-Do) and her younger siblings, Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss).

This happy family life may sound pro forma, it is a tribute to Hansen-Love's gifts as a filmmaker and her special facility with children ("I couldn't imagine not working with children," she says in the press notes) that it is anything but. This film places us in the company of characters who are so finely calibrated and accurately portrayed that we forget they are not truly real.

Though a company like Moon Pictures invariably operates on the far side of financial stability, "The Father of My Children" gradually lets us know that Grégoire and his company are in far worse shape than most people realize and in fact might be in danger of going under.

The type of person who continues to pick up checks though his company owes a million euros to a lab, Grégoire is used to riding out these storms, but in this case the crisis starts to genuinely get to him and he begins to truly feel that the walls are closing in.

It's at this point that something happens, something that is as upsetting as it is meant to be. It's something that could have started a film or ended one, but its placement right in the center of things underlines the intentions of its writer-director.

For what Hansen-Love is interested in most of all is how people respond to a given situation, how, each in their own way, characters cope with the circumstances life has placed them in, how each one decides for themselves what is to be done and how to proceed.

A filmmaker perfectly in tune with different personalities in crisis and conflict, Hansen-Love has said she wanted this film to "express the paradox of contradictory movements within the same person." Her ability to be candid and involved in emotions without ever crossing the line is the key to why her success is so complete.

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