Film producer Gregoire Canvel is one of those people who lives with a cell phone permanently affixed to his ear. Whether driving home late from the office or on holiday with his family, he’s on the phone negotiating the delicate juggling act of keeping creditors at bay, mollifying difficult talent and planting the seeds of new projects. With his abundant charm and implacable sense of calm, Gregoire’s world seems busy but entirely under control. It’s only about half way into the film that it becomes obvious his company is on a downward spiral beyond his control and somewhere behind his mask of confidence you begin to see a deepening gloom.
As it charts Gregoire’s slow descent, The Father of My Children reveals itself to be a contemplation of character and mood in the classic French style that worries less about the intricacies of its story than the emotions of the people who inhabit it. Focused on the nature of work and family and how the two simultaneously depend on and conflict with one another, the film shares a kinship with Olivier Assayas’ terrific Summer Hours. Though it doesn’t achieve the same heights as that film, it captures a similar melancholy mood and the two would make a nice double feature.
Partly because Gregoire is so serene in the face of his mounting troubles, Father avoids obvious melodrama in favor of a keener rumination. With one exception half way through the film, dramatic fireworks are kept to a minimum and filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve shows the uncommon patience to slow down and illuminate the human moments in between story beats. The result is a film you feel more than you intellectualize.
At 1 hour and 50 minutes, The Father of My Children may seem a little long for a lightly plotted drama, but somehow it never wears out its welcome. Because it shifts focus part way through, it’s almost like two related films in one and they’re both wholly fulfilling.