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New Directors/New Films ’10 | Cahiers du Cinema Critic Breaks Out With “The Father of My Children”

New Directors/New Films '10 | Cahiers du Cinema Critic Breaks Out With "The Father of My Children"

Inspired by the life and death of the late, legendary French film producer Humbert Balsan, Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is a work of two halves. The first follows the business dealings of Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), frantically shuttling between office and home, juggling the demands of artistic egos, lawyers, and bankers, and the needs of his beloved family—not to mention his surrogate family at work. Then the focus shifts dramatically to Grégoire’s wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), who together with her three daughters, must cope with devastating loss and then struggle to keep Grégoire’s company afloat and preserve his legacy. If the first half of this moving yet never sentimental drama is among the most convincing depictions of life in the movie business ever filmed, the second is an incredibly tender look at picking up the pieces after heartbreaking bereavement. [Synopsis provided by New Directors/New Films]

Editor’s Note: This is one interview in a series profiling directors whose films are screening at the 2010 New Directors/New Films Festival.

“The Father of My Children”
Director-screenwriter: Mia Hansen-Love
Producers: Philippe Martin, David Thion, Olivier Damian
Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Ciara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss, Eric Elmosnina, Sandrine Dumas
Director of photography: Pascal Auffray
Production designer: Mathieu Menut
Costume designer: Bethsabee Dreyfus
Editor: Marion Monnier
110 minutes

Director Mia Hansen-Love on how she came into filmmaking…

When I was 15, I took drama classes in my high school. I was hired to act in a film by Olivier Assayas, “Fin août début septembre” (“Late August, Early September”). That experience with fiction and on a movie set was pivotal for me.

I studied German for four years; at the same time, I went back to drama classes in a Municipal Academy, and I worked as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma. At that time, I already wanted to become a filmmaker. I thought that writing about films was the best way to learn. All the more so since I think that writing (and the solitude of it) is a fundamental component of cinema (on par with working with actors). It was really important to me to keep the connection I had with writing. When I was 21, I wrote and shot my first short film – it was indeed while shooting that very small film that I had the absolute certainty that my place was on a film set.

Love on how she came around to making “The Father of My Children”…

This film is based on an actual person: Humbert Balsan, a very important French independent cinema producer. He produced some sixty films, including a large number of films by Middle Eastern filmmakers, such as Youssef Chahine, Yousri Nasrallah, Elia Soulieman… I met him when I was 23; he decided to produce my first film. Meeting him left a mark on me because Humbert Balsan was the first to believe in me – he was for me like a “father for cinema” -, but also because he was an exceptionally charming man. A year later, he committed suicide. What inspired me to make this movie is not only a desire to portray a man inspired to me by him, but also a desire to portray an entire family, and to explore what a work of art is for someone who is not really an artist, and the way a man can survive after his death.

Love on the approach to making her film…

Director Mia Hansen-Love. Photo courtesy of New Directors/New Films.

One of the components of this film was working with children. I gave them a big role, because I wanted to continue some work I had started in my first film. I am very interested in people’s relationship with children. During the shooting, we did very long takes starting from improvisation (the children did not study the script), and then we moved on to the script, little by little. In the end, the script was enriched by a lot of work, thanks to the contact with the girls’ imagination and with real life, which gave it more truth and more lightness. On the other end, the question was: how can I film cinema, how can I film offices, work, in a way that is at the same time accurate, precise, and fascinating – this involved a lot of issues of staging, of pacing. And then there was the work with Louis-Do: how to direct him, how to find Grégoire Canvel’s character exactly – we found that, above all, thought work on pace, delivery, on the music of sequences.

And on the major challenges she faced in bringing her film to the screen…

We needed to convince a lot of people, because there was always a certain reticence regarding this project. Actually many of the people we were talking to had known Humbert Balsan, and they did not understand my desire to make this film. Also, we needed to be very fastidious when scoping out the set – one of the important components of the film; this applies in particular to the choice of streets in Paris. This film is also a film about Paris, and I wanted to shoot in a certain neighborhood, which is really not very convenient in terms of shooting. I had to fight a little to be able to shoot exactly where I wanted to. Lastly, we needed time (time is always the greatest luxury on a film set) in order not to rush though anything – in particular, time to film children.

What Love hopes the festival’s audience will take away from the film…

I hope that they will find truth both in terms of the feelings and ideas that I try to convey, and in terms of the representation of human relationships and of the world of cinema. I also hope that I will succeed in communicating a feeling of life – because that’s why I make films.

Love on her inspirations…

Many films, or rather many filmmakers have been with me since my teenage years and have nourished my imagination (Doillon, Rohmer, Bergman, Garrel, Pasolini, but also American filmmakers such as Michael Mann or James Gray) but when I make my own movies, I strive to withdraw to myself, I look for my own intimate truth; in other words, I try to avoid influences and, above all, references. The filmmakers that I admire have invented their own writing, their own way of making films: this is what I try to do.

While making this film, I did not think about the films that have been made on cinema, because the way in which I wanted to tackle this – a realistic one – and the story I wanted to tell in truth did not seem to have much in common with the films that I might have seen on cinema.

And on her next project…

This summer I am going to start shooting a movie which will be entitled “Un amour de jeunesse.” The English title is “Good Bye First Love.” A love story with teenagers.

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