Mia Hansen-Love’s 2007 debut, “All Is Forgiven,” movingly explored and ultimately reconciled the gulf between a separated father and daughter. In her follow-up, “Father of My Children,” the French writer-director pushes this premise to less consoling extremes, patiently observing the devastating consequences of a dad’s act of desperation. Marked by moments of remarkable stillness amid its emotional tumult, the film’s classy, perceptive treatment of potentially maudlin material merits wider arthouse attention than it’s likely to receive on local release in December. It confirms Hansen-Love as a talent worthy of a following on and beyond the fest circuit.
Mirroring the bifurcated structure of “All Is Forgiven,” “Father of My Children” consists of a first act that builds gradually but steadily to a shocking moment of violence, followed by a second act that sadly combs through the emotional wreckage.
Paris-based indie film producer Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) is the sort of incurable workaholic who’s always glued to his cell phone, even on weekends, to the growing frustration of his loving wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), and the neglect of his three daughters, Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing, “Summer Hours”), Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss).
In a development that could have been ripped from recent headlines, Canvel’s Moon Films shingle is on the verge of financial collapse, and Gregoire — an affable, charismatic, passionate guy who’s good at hiding how much pressure he’s under — has nonetheless begun to show signs of strain. Those hoping to preserve the purity of the experience should read no further: Suffice it to say that, according to the press notes, the character of Gregoire and his fateful decision were inspired by French producer Humbert Balsan, who committed suicide in 2005.
Hansen-Love carefully lays the groundwork for Gregoire’s actions, in an effort to render them as convincing as possible. The downside of her meticulous approach — not aided by her strategic, almost clinical positioning of the suicide scene at the pic’s midpoint — is an unmistakable sense of dramatic calculation. But the intelligence and sensitivity of the writing and direction encourage viewer trust as she shifts focus to Sylvia and the girls.
Pic deals with but doesn’t wallow in the family’s grief, and it devotes a considerable amount of time to Sylvia’s efforts to keep Moon Films, and her husband’s legacy, alive. “Father of My Children” is as much a snapshot of an ailing industry as it is a portrait of bereavement; Hansen-Love’s concern for independent cinema, her awareness of the difficulty of financing and making art in economically strained times, are evident throughout.
Caselli is daintily heartbreaking as the mother left to pick up the shards of her family, while both Louis-Do de Lencquesaing and his real-life daughter Alice subtly convey respective states of despair and confusion. As Gregoire’s tyke daughters, Gautier and Driss are aces.
Tech credits are unobtrusively pro, serving the material at all times. Opening and end credits are unexpectedly jazzy, playing over street-level views of Paris.