Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants) Review
This review includes some plot spoilers. If you wish to avoid them, please skip to "The DVD" below.
Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is a film producer, a career he's always wanted. A mobile phone almost permanently at his ear, he's always making deals, keeping as many balls in the air as possible. He is married to Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and has three daughters, Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing), Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Marielle Driss).
It's a measure of the subtlety of Father of My Children, the second film by writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve (French-born, despite the Scandinavian surname), that it takes a while to spot the cracks in the façade of Grégoire's seemingly ideal life. It's there at the beginning though: the fast talk, the cigarette as much a fixture as the mobile. This is a man who runs on stress, mainlines adrenaline. It's quite a juggling act, to keep so many balls in the air...but for how long?
Grégoire is emblematic of a common middle-age malaise, maybe a predominantly male one. He values himself by what he does, not by what he is. He seems to adore his wife and children...yet has not had a holiday with them in five years and won't go unless he can take that mobile with him. Being a filmmaker may be his dream, but failure to live up to his ambitions to him is failure as a person, as a man...and his family life cannot mitigate that. And Grégoire really is in trouble. His company's films have not been the hoped-for successes, the lab is wanting the million euros (plus interest) that he owes, and he's struggling to keep his newest film afloat. And finally it all comes crashing down.
That's the first half of the film, which was inspired by a true story – film producer Humbert Balsan, whom Hansen-Løve was acquainted with, who took his own life in similar circumstances to Grégoire. And with that event, the film shifts gears, as the family try to come to terms with his death and Sylvia and the accountants try to pick up the pieces. The emphasis shifts to eldest daughter Clémence who feels particularly betrayed, especially when she finds things out about her father that had been previously been kept from her. As a study of grief, Father of My Children avoids easy sentimentality as widow and daughters deal with the tragedy in different ways...a process which is clear is still ongoing as the end credits appear.
Hansen-Løve began her career as an actress, though made just two films, Late August, Early September and Les destinées sentimentales, both directed by Olivier Assayas, to whom she is now engaged. She soon decided that she would rather be on the other side of the camera. Father of My Children is a remarkably confident and mature film for such a young director (twenty-eight at the Cannes premiere). She displays an unshowy use of the camera, and gets fine work out of her cast. She also has a good ear for music: Doris Day's “Que Sera Sera” could have been unbearably kitsch, but used where it is, it becomes very moving. Father of My Children was chosen for Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Festival and won the Special Jury Prize. It confirms Mia Hansen-Løve as a considerable talent.
Father of My Children is released by Artificial Eye on a dual-layered PAL DVD encoded for all regions.
The DVD is in the ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. This is a brand-new film, so you expect a first-rate transfer and you get one, looking like it was derived from a HD master. It's sharp and colourful with excellent shadow detail and strong blacks.
There is a choice of soundtracks, both with the original French dialogue (with a smattering of English in a couple of scenes), in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). Either way, the soundtrack is very much front and centre for this dialogue-driven film, with the surrounds used mostly for ambience. The soundstage does open up for a party scene late on, with John Leyton's Joe Meek-produced “Johnny Remember Me” being heard. The subwoofer doesn't get to do much work, but it does fill in the bassline of that particular song. English subtitles are available, optional for the feature and the director interview, fixed for the trailers and the film extracts in the interview.
The extras have a Play All option. The most substantial item is an interview with Mia Hansen-Løve (15:58), which was recorded in London. The interviewer was David Graham but his contributions have been edited out, leaving just Hansen-Løve's answers (in French) and illustrative excerpts from the film. She begins by talking about the inspiration for the film, and goes on to describe her approach to filmmaking, and how her work as an actress, however brief, enables her to work well with the cast.
Also included on the DVD is the trailer for Father of My Children (1:30), Four other trailers for Artificial Eye DVD releases play as a single title with chapter stops: Summer Hours, Hidden, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and The Girl Cut in Two.