MPI // 2009 // 111 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // April 28th, 2011
A beautiful life, a tragic obsession.
Serge: "Why do you produce that stuff? Are you a masochist?"
Gregoire: "I like his films. Everyone turned him down."
Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Cache) is a workaholic film producer. He likes to champion eccentric directors even though their art house films have little profit potential. With his latest production spiraling out of control and over budget, the mounting debt threatens everything for which Gregoire has worked. Distracted by work even when he's supposed to be enjoying a weekend retreat with his wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli, Ripley's Game), and their three daughters, Gregoire's obsession takes a toll on everyone. However, his passion is infectious and his family and friends respond with deep love and support when Gregoire can't do it alone.
Behind every successful director is a producer who decided to take a chance and put money behind a potential talent. Every filmmaker should be so lucky as to have a man like Gregoire in his or her corner. Here is a portrait of a producer unlike any of the usual showbiz clichés. He's not a showboating hustler, nor is he a naïve idealist. Gregoire is a businessman who believes in the movies he produces. He spends his day meeting with bankers and in the evening he'll introduce the retrospective of an obscure director at the cinematheque. His sincere love of the movies almost makes up for his bad business sense. De Lencquesaing gives his character a quiet complexity that feels really down-to-earth. Dealing with great stress at work, he remains soft-spoken and calm with his colleagues. Gregoire has a quiet, confident strength about him that hides deep frustration. He is also a thoughtful and loving family man when he's not distracted.
Behind every driven man is a loving, supportive woman. Sylvia is an enabler of Gregoire's passion. She demands that he spend more time with his family but she sees where Gregoire is at his best and she encourages that. Sylvia also eventually reveals that she understands her husband's work to a deeper degree than she is given credit. When she has to take charge, she does so with quiet authority. Gregoire's influence is also evident in his oldest daughter Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing, Summer Hours), played by Louis-Do's real-life daughter. Clemence has a mature, independent spirit but she is undoubtedly her father's daughter. The way she shows her resolve, applies her inquisitive mind and reveals her eye for artistry sets Clemence apart from usual portrayals of teenagers coping with the realities of the adult world.
The Father of My Children is a touching portrait of a family in crisis and how its individual members cope with an inexplicable tragedy. The movie is also a lovely observation of how the values of parents are passed to their children, even if one such individual isn't much of a parent. The movie avoids melodrama and manages to be quite moving by showing how Gregoire's obvious love for his kind of movies inspires those around him to take up his dream too. When you truly love a movie, don't you want to share it with others so they'll love it too?
A couple of visually busy shots at the start of the movie had me worried about the disc's technical presentation. It looked like some compression problems with the tree-lined Paris streets but the picture quickly settles into more stable territory. The image is clean with reasonable sharpness and natural-looking colors that lean toward a neutral palette. There isn't a great deal of contrast in the compositions so lots of detail is retained in the shadows. The audio is given a 5.1 surround mix even though the soundscape isn't complex. Dialogue is clear without being forceful and is concentrated in the front channels. The surrounds get occasional work for low-key music and environmental effects.
Gregoire is said to be based on real-life film producer Humbert Balsan, who produced Lars von Trier's Manderlay. This portrait of a producer and his family is so tender and heartfelt that I really wanted to know more about them, whether the characters are mostly invention or if writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve had a connection with the real family. Some sort of introduction or interview with the filmmaker would have been welcome.
This is a beautifully observant movie about a hard-working man who runs into a dead end and the good people around him. There are no showy performances but every character feels like a real person. The sadness and strength of the characters also feels real.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated