“Cinema is a constant confrontation with the real world”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Cineuropa met with the young 28-year-old director in Paris to talk about the genesis of her second feature, The Father of My Children
Cineuropa: The main character in your film escapes life’s difficulties by committing suicide, just as in your debut feature the character found escape in drugs. Why did you want to develop this theme further?
Mia Hansen-Løve: On the surface, the two films are very different in terms of their context and the profession of the main character, who is a producer in The Father of My Children [+see also:
interview: Mia Hansen-Løve
film profile], so completely connected in that sense, whereas the character in All Is Forgiven [+see also:
interview: David Thion
interview: Mia Hansen-Löve
film profile] rejected the notion of work. But the two films are alike in their exploration of escape, in the desperate melancholy that finally breaks through in The Father of My Children, even if it is less visible, hidden behind an outer radiance. It’s as if the first film was the stage and the second is the backstage. For The Father of My Children is about cinema, about the relationship between life and cinema, between fiction and reality.
To what extent were you inspired by the life of producer Humbert Balsan?
Lots of artists base their characters on well-known people. Here, it’s more striking and this distorts one’s perception of the character, for he’s someone who worked in film and was familiar to a lot of people. Above all, I tried to be as true as possible to the spirit of the production company and the personality of the protagonist at the centre of the film.
On the other hand, many aspects are not a true reflection of the life of Humbert Balsan, especially seeing as I only met him about ten times, although I knew him for a year. The film isn’t a tribute, even though Humbert Balsan meant a great deal to me and his death was an awful shock.
Did you want to paint the portrait of a man or, in a wider sense, a family?
Both. The second part of the film about dealing with grief is an important aspect, but what matters most is the idea of passing from one character to another, the notion of handing down, the way the absent protagonist continues to live on through others. Does Grégoire Canvel’s character live on more in his work, his film catalogue, or his family? Where does his soul survive most strongly? There is this duality in the film and we constantly move from the production company to the family. We see how the company is ruined, but the films will continue their life and directors will continue to make films, and we see how the family survives and continues to move forward.
Was it your intention to make a film about independent film production?
As shooting progressed, the more I found it fascinating from a dramatic point of view. When I wrote the film, what interested me was the personality of Humbert Balsan, his commitment, his love of art and the mystery surrounding his death. I had reservations about the idea of making a film about cinema. Then, I told myself that the subject had often been explored, but in a fantasy-like way, involving an archetype that didn’t correspond to my experience of cinema.
But it’s not about exposing the difficulties of financing films. It’s hard to find money when you make personal or radical films, but that’s the way things are. France is the country with the most sophisticated and advantageous system for filmmakers, even though it’s obviously not perfect. My film shows the importance of money in the film industry and how this can lead to alienation, but that’s what cinema is: a constant confrontation with the real world. And the case of Grégoire Canvel inspired by Humbert Balsan is a specific case, bound up with his personality, his noble qualities and extraordinary character. It can’t be generalised to encompass all independent producers.