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The Father of My Children
Time Out New York Project: Issue #765, May 27–June 2, 2010
Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve. 2009. N/R. 110mins. In French, with subtitles. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing.
The late film producer Humbert Balsan—who shepherded work by Claire Denis, James Ivory, Béla Tarr and others—is the acknowledged model for Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), the charismatic center of this affecting family drama. He runs a seemingly thriving production company and has a family who loves him despite the long hours and constant business calls. But some problems that were once easily ignored are now threatening to overwhelm his work and life.
Writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve is telling two stories here: The first is a concentrated, slow-burn tale of personal self-destruction, while the second is an anecdotal, perceptive study of a family dealing with tragedy. Grégoire’s section is gripping, but contrived: Hansen-Løve relies too strongly on De Lencquesaing’s magnetism to patch over holes in the character’s psychology, and the fateful decision he makes at the film’s midpoint feels like a cheap transitional ploy. But when The Father of My Children shifts focus to Grégoire’s wife (Caselli) and children (the eldest is beautifully played by De Lencquesaing’s actual daughter, Alice), Hansen-Løve’s hand steadies, and she reveals a true talent for intimate, behavioral observation. These small moments accumulate and build to a moving final scene somewhat tempered by the fact that this is only half a great movie.—Keith Uhlich