Review: The Father of My Children
This film opens today in San Diego. Here’s a review from Jay Drose, a young local filmmaker who has been working with me the last few months.
The Father of My Children
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring Louis-Do de Lencquesaing Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing
In French with Subtitles
In The Intelligence of Evil, the final book by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, it is theorized that contemporary art had come to represent meaninglessness through a relentless desire to reference itself. Baudrillard writes, “[art] is merely a specular play with the contemporary world as it takes place. It is in this that contemporary art is worthless.” Since Baudrillard was French and Mia Hansen-Løve, the young writer and director of The Father of My Children is as well, one would think that a film about making a film would argue for or against the potential beauty of self-reflexivity. After all, these are the kinds of ideas European films often investigate. What is surprising, however, is that The Father of My Children ignores its own self-reflexive frame and instead simply watches a topical story unfold slowly. It is painful, honest and uneven progression of events—that of an undercurrent of financial nausea intensifying into inevitable financial ruin.
The film is about Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), an experienced film producer who is still trying to make films with artsy directors. As our film opens, Gregoire drives through the streets of Paris in a bustling, another-day-at-the-office manner; he shuffles through his two cell phones and smokes and chats with the subtle flare we imagine movie producers exhibit. Down the road he’s pulled over for speeding and questioned on his past traffic demerits. He’s booked and picked up by his wife who smiles at him maternally. Another day at the office, indeed.
But this façade disappears when Gregoire reaches his countryside home. As he interacts with his Italian wife and three young daughters, a tender, caring side of him emerges. It’s this setting that suggests Gregoire has something stable to lean on while he carries the taxing, always-involved work of financing films and producing art for dwindling audiences. His wife hardly can stand his attachment to his cell phone. It always looks uncaring and cold when we are the one’s watching.
The whole front half of The Father of My Children has this breezy feel to it. It nears the point of banality until Gregoire’s situation worsens, quite rapidly, when his biggest work-in-progress is seized by the bank funding it. When it becomes clear that he can no longer parlay his venerable catalogue of films as collateral for the bank, panic takes holds and Gregoire slips away by himself. Bankruptcy is knocking on the door when Gregoire finally opens up to his wife atop a bridge in the city as the day comes to its grey, cold close.
Hansen-Løve’s story is mostly told from a physical distance, which communicates a similar emotional detachment. She rarely positions her camera close to the characters she watches. This often feels right until an unconnected verse of music fades in or we spend half a minute simply watching characters walking down the street. It is these brief lapses that Hansen-Løve’s film becomes much more of an anonymous creation than anything. You could short-change such a thoughtful, well-realized film by branding The Father of My Children the common but accurate label of ‘slow.’ But there are a few moments that rise out of the story that redeem that feeling. The question for me, however, is if there are enough of those moments to make this film feel completely realized.
Like I said, one wishes there were more moments like when we watch Gregoire’s family on vacation in Italy. His young daughter swims effortlessly in a milky pool of spring water, a soft, feminine image that resonates for a long moment. You can visually see the creation of a memory in that young girl—that of ease and normalcy before a storm of inherited debt.
What makes Baudrillard’s theories on the end of authentic art more damning and reasonable is that not only are the makers of esoteric, art-house films making redundant, self-reflexive work, but it’s the fact that there is hardly an audience for such things anymore. Perhaps it is the intractable artistic pain, that of making and living for art that gives so little back, is what drives Gregoire to do what he does. He is proof that the characters inside films, and maybe the ones he has helped create, too, are merely humans who disguise their losses. They are like us. They talk and act like everyone else, but have become too far ingrained in the madness of creating meaning in a world that’s too big to notice, and thus too busy to care.