Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Father Of My Children (Le père de mes enfants) (2009): Review

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. Starring Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Manelle Driss, Alice Gautier, and Alice de Lencquesaing.

People have their own ways of dealing with suicide (or any form of premature unnatural death) and the loss of a loved one. Some people cry for days while others become emotionally and mentally numb to the situation; sometimes both. Sadness, anger, confusion, denial, disappointment. However, the one thought that ties everyone who mourns the loss of a suicide victim together is "Why?" The synopsis for FATHER OF MY CHILDREN suggests that the suicide of father/husband Gregoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) comes from out of nowhere and that his surviving family are left asking that very one-word question. But, when he does take his own life in the film, it's quite apparent to the viewer as to why he does it.

Aside from being a father and husband to three beautiful daughters and a loving wife (Chiara Caselli), respectively, Gregoire is a film producer and the head of a production company on the verge of bankruptcy. His financial problems become overwhelming, and thus he takes the easy way out, seeing suicide as the only option. Following his death, his wife - with the help of Gregoire's close friend Serge (Eric Elmosnino) - is left to pick up the pieces and make a decision as to what to do with the production company - will her choice be selfish, or will she continue the fight that utterly defeated her late husband? Meanwhile, the eldest daughter (Alice de Lencquesaing) makes a shocking discovery in regards to her father in the midst of doing some soul-searching of her own.

In an unexpected move, FATHER OF MY CHILDREN plays with viewer expectations by teasing the suicide of Gregoire on two occasions in the film for seemingly no reason. It's an unnecessary but nice touch that adds brief moments of tension to an otherwise slow-moving and mostly uneventful film. And trust me when I say that it's slow. It took me four times over a period of two days to complete the nearly two-hour film because there was nothing about it, initially, that grasped my attention and kept me interested in the character of the doomed father. It wasn't until the obvious turning point in the film that FATHER OF MY CHILDREN was able to affect me on at least an emotional level, and this was mostly due to the strong performances of the cast and how their characters responded to the tragedy. The seemingly complete lack of any artificial lighting, while logical in creating a "direct cinema" look, doesn't exactly help in adding some life to such a gloomy film.

In all fairness, this is not a film that is meant to entertain audiences, but to tell a story and hopefully move the audience in the process. In that respect, it succeeds. There are films that blatantly pull at the heartstrings of vulnerable audiences and exploit their emotions, and there are films that are genuinely heartbreaking. FATHER OF MY CHILDREN falls into the latter category. One could easily argue that it falls into the former category since it basically introduces you to a family and then turns their world upside down as you're forced to watch it, but, in my opinion, what saves it from being a cheap tearjerker is that it's not so much about the burden of loss as it is about the necessity of acceptance and moving on.

Make or Break scene: The family's initial mourning of/reaction to Gregoire's death is easily the stand-out scene in the film for me. I think the less said about it the better.

MVT: The most valuable thing is the cast, all across the board. Solid acting from everyone involved, and without a good enough cast to really convey the emotions necessary in getting the point across, the film would have amounted to very little.

Score: 6.25/10

The score may seem low, but hear a brother out: As much as FATHER OF MY CHILDREN succeeds at what it tries to do, and aside from the solid acting and the believability/likability of the characters/cast, there's not a whole lot in the film for me to really justify giving it an obscenely high score. It's a somewhat challenging film to watch (not so much because of its content, but its lack of content) and there's very little re-watchability to it, if any. However, I do recommend the film to anyone who seeks out tragic cinema, or anyone who has the patience for such. It is challenging, but the experience is touching and ultimately rewarding.

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