Father of My Children

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Review by © Jane Freebury

Out-of-office doesn’t mean that much anymore, thanks to the mobiles and blackberries and other culprits. The film producer trying to orchestrate life and work in this family drama from France is constantly on his mobile, and seems more like a candidate for a brain tumour behind the ear than the depression he succumbs to.

For ‘work-life balance’, Gregoire (Luis-Do de Lencquesaing) takes his family to their house in the country on weekends, despite protests from teenage daughter Clemence (Lui-Do’s daughter Alice) who’d rather be chilling out with her friends in Paris than hanging out with her younger sisters.

Even among the farmlands and the crusader ruins, Gregoire’s phone is still in range. Wife Sylvie (Chiara Caselli) gives him an ultimatum, however she has also given him an ‘out’—she considers he has already done a service to cinema, and that financial success is immaterial.

Gregoire’s small film production company, which has wryly been given the name Moon Films, is dedicated to supporting arthouse directors and their vision. Apparently, making an occasional commercial success to keep the business afloat and support other less financial ventures is out of the question. Saturn, the ‘one film too many’ with a difficult Russian director, and the other films on his slate have titles that suggest déjà vu. Could this be taking the mickey too?

Like Francois Truffaut’s inimitable Day for Night or Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story, this film about filmaking (and other things) shows how directors and producers have a lot more to handle than tricky financiers. A member of the crew on one of Gregoire’s films has committed suicide, another cries on his shoulder over his wife’s affair.

Luckily for this filmmaker, he has a happy family to go home to. It makes the fact that he takes his own life anyway – a plot point there is not use hiding – all the more puzzling. Besides his career, it seems he had made a healthy investment in his role as husband and family man, and some of the high points of the film are Gregoire’s interactions with his children. His character is apparently based on a dedicated film producer who took his own life.

I’ve described this film as a drama, and so it is, but the label seems to overstate its emotional punch and misrepresent it somehow. The writer/director has a knack for telling a story involving a family tragedy in a brisk, even matter-of-fact, way that still manages to show how its impact on other family members is devastating. Hansen-Love’s choice of actors has a lot to do with it and so has her bracing, unsentimental style. It still packs a wallop.

In a capsule: A bracing, brisk family drama about an arthouse film producer and devoted family man who suffers for his art. Terrific acting, especially from the lead actor and the young children, make this a distinctive, unsentimental, yet moving experience.

4 stars