In The Father of My Children French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love makes something oddly beautiful and complex from a basic comic template. A story of a workaholic dad who has an immensely difficult time juggling business and family, the film nevertheless takes its conventions in a unexpected direction. From the start, all the clichés are in place: a disheveled man (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) wearing a rumpled suit negotiates about seven different associates squawking into his cell phone while rushing down a Paris sidewalk, both on foot and behind the wheel of a car. His harried wife (Chiara Caselli) sits impatiently at home with the kids, who include, naturally, two adorably precocious young daughters, and a distant teenager (Alice de Lencquesaing), who’s wise beyond her years in that way that only rosy-cheeked but no-nonsense bourgeois French teenage girls seem to be.
Yet Hansen-Love, as it turns out, is not all that interested in charting the everyday frustrations of a man unable to mix his worlds; rather The Father of My Children becomes a portrait of crippling contemporary anxiety, both professional and familial, and the possibility that they may never be fully reconciled.
There’s an ease and affability to the opening half of the film, but that gives way to something darker, and the director excels at maintaining a mood of hyperactivity without telegraphing her themes or giving away her at times shocking destinations. The film’s first section focuses more exclusively on the business activities and desperations of the father in question, Grégoire Canvel, who, in an intriguing twist, is a movie producer. Though this is a film about the film industry, it is not the story of a misunderstood artist navigating a treacherous world looking out for the bottom line. Grégoire is a wheeler-dealer who declares, with near embarrassment, that he’s from a family of industrialists. His defense of a certain Swedish auteur, whose film has gone into budget crisis, betrays his artistic heart (as does his delight in showing his daughters a church mosaic during a rare weekend outing), however, even if all we ever see him do is try to calm down financiers and provide a shoulder for disgruntled actors to cry on in between takes. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky’s review of The Father of My Children.