Mia Hansen-Løve’s superb Father of my Children (Le pére de mes enfants) (2009) slots nicely into the contemporary pantheon of mature and insightful French family dramas that includes Olivier Assayas's Summer Hours (2008) and Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (2008). There’s also a touch of Laurent Cantet (Human Resources , Time Out , The Class ) in the movie’s timely exploration of a man's troubled relationship with his job. Hansen-Løve’s poignant, profound film draws its inspiration from the life of independent French film producer Humbert Balsan, fictionalised here as "Grégoire Canvel" and played with charm and presence by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing. Canvel seems, by traditional standards at least, to have it all, but the movie gradually reveals him to be a man in crisis, crippled mostly by the pressures of his work, pressures that lead him to a truly shocking action midway through the film.
Hansen-Løve’s approach here is discreet and tender yet ultimately very powerful; with its understated, measured and sensitive tone, the film is the anti-Precious (2009). Father of my Children very subtly pulls the viewer into intimacy with its characters and refuses to either demonise or deify any of the people that it shows us. The movie has a wonderful, unfussy naturalism and the performances that the director coaxes from the young actresses who play Canvel’s three children (including Alice de Lencquesaing - Louis-Do’s real-life daughter - who was also in Summer Hours) are simply beyond praise. In addition, the movie offers a sobering account of the practicalities of film financing and production, while some inspired and idiosyncratic song choices (John Leyton’s “Johnny, Remember Me”, Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera”) greatly enhance the tone and mood. “I wanted to make a film that gives you both the cruelty and the beauty of life, the happiness along with the sadness,” Hansen-Løve has said. That not inconsiderable feat is precisely what Father of my Children achieves.