Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Father of My Children

Which children are first in the heart of film financier Grégoire Canvel, his adoring daughters or his art house movies? Unfortunately, one problem child has run way over budget, threatening the stability of his respected production company. Those Russian-Scandinavian co-productions of avant-garde science fiction will do it every time. Canvel’s professional travails will have tragic repercussions for his nuclear family in Mia Hansen-Løve’s The Father of My Children (trailer here), the winner of the Un Certain Regard’s Special Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, which opens in New York this Friday.

Canvel’s charm kept Moon Films alive for years, but cost over-runs on his current productions threaten to topple his fiscal house of cards. His family has no idea though. While he is intimately connected to his cell phone during their weekend in the country, such professional preoccupation is nothing new for his patient family. In fact, his two younger daughters affectionately satirize his workaholic tendencies in their family variety show. Meanwhile, Canvel is dancing as fast as he can, but the tempo is unforgiving.

When the crash comes, it devastates the family, but they have to carry on. In a smoothly executed pivot, Hansen-Løve shifts her focus to Clémence, the eldest Canvel daughter. Perhaps as a means of justifying her family’s tribulations, she starts to embrace the rarified cinema her father championed at Moon. As is usually the case in the real world, the Canvels find some measure of closure, while leaving plenty of messy loose ends. Indeed, neatness in life is pure fiction.

Actual father and daughter Louis-Do and Alice de Lencquesaing have a similar brainy screen charisma, nicely carrying their halves of the film. The younger de Lencquesaing is particularly impressive, handling her character’s pain and confusion without indulging in melodramatic theatrics. In contrast, Chiara Caselli’s aloofness as Canvel’s Italian wife Sylvia, though a function of her emotional defenses, leaves not nearly as memorable an impression with viewers. As a result, Alice de Lencquesaing frankly takes command of the latter half of the film. Still, there are many intriguing small supporting turns, including for truly hardcore cineastes, a cameo by Tajik film director Jamshed Usmonov as Moon filmmaker Kova Asimov.

Sensitively helmed, Hansen-Løve handles the film’s pivotal moments with an effective matter-of-factness and elicits some honest performances from her young cast. Not exactly escapist entertainment, Father is a very good film. While there will be a temptation for many to proclaim its relevance in the ever deepening recession, its circumstances are certainly unique to Hansen-Løve’s story. Smart and touching, Father opens this Friday (5/28) at the IFC Center.