At the centre of this film is Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a gentleman producer and the father of three loving daughters. A cinéma vérité-like camera follows the workaholic dad in his quotidian struggle as, overheated mobile phone glued to his ear, he attempts to keep his production company, Moon Films, afloat; between two family weekends in the countryside, he is perpetually interrupted by urgent calls.
A charming, daring businessman and a true cinephile, Grégoire successfully gambled his way into launching indie directorial talents and is well-respected in the profession. But it is an unforgiving world and the producer finds himself constantly torn between the contrasting demands of bankers and distributors keen to see a return on their investment, and directors continually requesting more time and money to find the perfect shot or ideal location. Submerged in debt, crushed by never-ending and irreconcilable responsibilities, the much-admired movie patron and father figure abruptly shoots himself in the head on a Paris street corner bathed with warm summer sunlight.
The matter-of-fact title (The Father of My Children) sets the tone: inspired by the life and death of the revered French film producer Humbert Balsan (who, before taking his own life in 2005, considered financing Mia Hansen-Løve’s first feature), this is a no-nonsense vision of the film industry, a realistic and almost mundane descent into the artistic alienation and financial suffocation suffered by some producers. It is also a tale of modern (wo)man’s crippling struggle to reconcile family life and the (self-imposed) alienation brought on by work.
The second part of the film casts a similarly dispassionate, mundane eye on an almost disconnected topic: loss and mourning. We watch Gregoire’s wife try to save the company and the oldest teenage daughter attempt to fill the space created by her dad’s death. The interruption is unsettling, but the two acts are artfully sewn together by Hansen-Løve’s effortless camera and its cinema-vérité aesthetic, resulting in the type of clarity and insight that used to be the trademark of French cinema. Beyond the homage to an extraordinary figure in the film world, this is a testament to the immortal beauty of auteur cinema: the show goes on.
LE PÈRE DE MES ENFANTS/DER VATER MEINER KINDER | Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve (France/Germany 2009) with Chiara Caselli, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Alice de Lencquesaing. Starts May 20. French OV.