Life and death of a producer: the price of freedom
by Fabien Lemercier
- The fascinating portrait of an auteur film producer whose life is in freefall. This sensitive and subtle work won the Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes
"Everybody admires you but nobody helps you". This laconic remark is made by Grégoire Canvel, a film producer who is about to commit suicide, driven to the brink by his company’s debts. Through this character, inspired by Humbert Balsan, a figure of French independent cinema, who died tragically in 2005, young director Mia Hansen-Løve (28) with her second feature, The Father of My Children [+see also:
interview: Mia Hansen-Løve
film profile], fulfils all the potential shown in her debut film All Is Forgiven [+see also:
interview: David Thion
interview: Mia Hansen-Löve
Both titles were launched on the Croisette, the first in the Directors’ Fortnight in 2007, and the second in official selection in the 2009 Un Certain Regard section, where it scooped the Special Jury Prize. This is a dazzling start to the career of a director endowed with many qualities, including an ability to subtly explore personal subjects, guide her actors towards great performances, film in a masterfully understated style and weave narratives where the film’s focal point seems to shift and then return in order to more effectively unravel subjects that always retain a certain mystery, that of life and human frailty.
Played by an outstanding Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, the producer at the centre of The Father of My Children flies the flag in defence of auteur film ("The directors I work with aren’t usually of much interest to TV networks") and spends his life with a telephone glued to his ear trying to sort out all the problems that go with a film release, the overseeing of two film shoots (one in France, the other in Sweden) and the preparation of a co-production with Korea and a project in Tajikistan.
But a sword of Damocles hangs over him: his company Moon Films is in debt to the tune of millions of euros and bankruptcy looms. Budget overspending, unpaid laboratory bills, threats of strike action on a film set, negotiations with the bank without even the asset of a film catalogue which has already been mortgaged, a film negative seized by bailiffs. Canvel’s charm and social ease will not be enough to stem the downward economic spiral, gradually plunging him into a latent depression, which suddenly comes to a head with an unexpected gunshot.
Beyond this remarkable portrait of a passionate film enthusiast whose life is in freefall and this realistic and compelling behind-the-scenes plunge into the film world, Hansen-Løve also succeeds in sketching a sensitive portrait of the producer’s family: his wife (Italian actress Chiara Caselli) and three children (in particular his teenage daughter, played by Alice de Lencquesaing).
A few scenes of their happy life together in the countryside with a loving and much-loved husband and father give way to a second film within the film: how do you cope with the suicide of a loved one ("He abandoned us, he preferred nothingness"), the discovery of secrets (a personal guarantee of €700,000, a secret son), trying to save the production company and finish the Swedish shoot, and rebuilding one’s life with love and friendship?
These human stakes and moving family dimension reveal once more, after All Is Forgiven, Hansen-Løve’s subtle direction of the actors and her talent for storytelling. We’re already looking forward with curiosity to her next feature.
(Translated from French)