Fate takes the lead in 'Father of My Children'

Chiara Caselli (left), Alice Gautier, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, and Manelle Driss in "Father of My Children," about the parenting, marital, and financial troubles of a French film producer.
Chiara Caselli (left), Alice Gautier, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, and Manelle Driss in "Father of My Children," about the parenting, marital, and financial troubles of a French film producer.
Posted: July 23, 2010

To watch the movie producer Gregoire Canvel (played by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) walking through the streets of Paris in the heartbreaking Father of My Children is to witness a man with the weight of the world pressing down on him. In the early sequences of Mia Hansen-Love's beautifully observed family portrait, Canvel, wielding a mobile phone (or two), smoking cigarettes, fielding panicky missives from a Swedish film set, is all resilient charm. Sure, he owes millions to labs, to studios, to the banks. A Korean filmmaker is unhappy with the Paris crew. Lawyers and creditors are closing in.

But Gregoire still has his crazy movies, his insecure but talented directors and actors. And he has his wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), and three daughters: teenage Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing, the actor's real-life offspring) and the goofy little sprites Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss). There is a house in the country, across a cobbled road from a river, and even if he's forever on his cell, negotiating terms, pleading for time and money, placating his Swedish auteur, there are moments with his children, stolen time with Sylvia.

But then, as Gregoire's woes mount, his stride slackens, his face goes blank. Midway through Father of My Children, the movie pivots, becomes something else, sadder and tougher.

The two de Lencquesaings, father and daughter, are terrific in their respective roles: his despair, mixed with denial and strange optimism; her solitude, separateness, as she sets out on her own life. Caselli, for her part, conveys the ardor and the anger of a woman in a close but trying marriage. And in a moment when Gregoire needs her support, she meets him, they walk, they talk. You can see the love in their eyes.

And sometimes those eyes well up in tears. But the talented Hansen-Love, with clarity and economy, manages to avoid the maudlin. This is a film that begins with a buoyant Jonathan Richman instrumental on the sound track, and ends with a song from Doris Day. It is a film about children and their parents, and not knowing where fate, or life, can take you.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

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