The French import "Father of My Children," which won a Special Jury prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, has a quiet intensity that sneaks up on you. This drama about a man in despair and a family in tumult is also an insightful look at the modern film industry. The film, halved into two distinct parts, relies on a cataclysmic tragedy midway through to change narrative directions. And to writer/director Mia Hansen-Love's credit, the film succeeds in this difficult and unexpected transition. I suspect that a number of other reviews will be inclined to mention the nature of this big moment. I, for one, think it would be a mistake to share this piece of the cinematic puzzle--and I will refrain from giving away any specifics. Let's just say, I went into "Father of My Children" without any pre-existing knowledge and I think the picture benefits by unraveling on its own terms.
The film presents us with Gregoire, a French film producer who is struggling to finance the various projects his company is juggling. Assured and well liked, Gregoire is the consummate professional dedicated to the artistry of film. As the business situation becomes more dire, his relationship with his family becomes increasingly distant as work starts to intrude on quality time. On this occasion, however, Gregoire may not be able to extricate himself from the financial burdens that threaten the company. When the aforementioned tragedy takes place, everyone is shocked and left to pick up the pieces. The family must rely on one another in unexpected ways and take up new responsibilities at home and with the film company. It's an emotionally difficult period that helps to redefine the roles and relationships within the clan.
At heart, "Father of My Children" (as you might guess from its title) is a family based drama. One of the joys was to see how close and loving they are to one another. And while there is some understandable alienation and bitterness, never do we lose the sense of real family unity. Heartbreaking and hopeful, by turns, this is an extremely believable film made more so by a naturalistic and likable cast. Even the children give perfectly pitched performances. The film has a genuine pathos that grounds and connects the viewers. I was with these characters through thick and thin. A quietly moving and powerful experience--I was sold on the film's emotional center. The additional cinematic details in the depiction of the filmmaking process was a big extra bonus as well. KGHarris, 1/11.