‘Le Pére de mes Enfants’ est fantastique!

Posted on February 20, 2010

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Director: Mia Hansen-Løve

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Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Eric Elmosnino

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Now let’s just get this straight, first and foremost. Up until about 2 or 3 years ago, I really didn’t like French film. I found it too arty, and arrogant and self assured. It was too wordy and stylish with no substance. Or so I thought. You see, up until about two/three years ago I was your average film watcher, duped into thinking if it didn’t come from Hollywood it’s not worth watching, a fact which I’ve quickly turned around, having realised that if it comes from Hollywood, in all likelihood, it’s probably shit.

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But anyway, how this genesis of love for French film, and indeed all foreign film  came about, was in college, naturally enough. And I attribute blame to three films: La Jetée – a wonderful French short film, made completely with still imagery, dealing with issues of time travel among other things. Striking and brilliant, everyone should see it.

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The second film is another French film called La Haine, which follows three minority characters, a Jew, a black and an Arab, whose future prospects in France are slim and none. Set during a very volatile period in France when rioting was a substitute for the daily jog, La Haine is a stark picture of what violence and hate breeds.

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The last film and my favourite of the three is Caché, another French film, which recently garnered the Times Online’s number 1 film of the decade award. Michel Haneke could definitely be considered filmmaker of the decade and this film highlights why. A tense study of family life under scrutiny and surveillance, interconnects with George’s (Daniel Auteuil) feelings of guilt over an incident from his childhood. Playing into the 21st Century fear that technology is becoming too advanced and someone is always watching, Caché doesn’t answer questions in the traditional sense but does give an excellent reading of racial tensions in France, even today. A pure gem.

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With all of this in mind, I was sent along to the press screening of French film, Le Pére de mes Enfants (The Father of my Children) in the IFI yesterday. Gearing up for JDIFF, the new IFI looks really, really good following its recent renovations. Screen 2 played host to the press (I still feel weird that I’m considered ‘press’).

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The first scene of the film, though well shot had me a little worried that what we were going to get was a standard, run of the mill, downfall story. Big business man smokes and stresses himself into heart attack – the end. Thankfully, that ended up not being the case.

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Gregoire (Lencquesaing) is a struggling film producer, up to his eyes in debt and slowly falling into irreversible despair. He smokes too much and owns two mobile phones, both of which are almost constantly in use. The main pleasure he has is his family, with whom he shares the weekends in the countryside. But with the noose tightening, Gregoire takes drastic action leaving his wife Sylvia (Caselli) and 3 kids to pick up the pieces…

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Inspired by French filmmaker Humbert Balsan, who died in 2005, Le Pere de mes Enfants is a beautifully shot, emotional gem. Hansen-Løve’s film is a study of grief first and foremost, both the grief Gregoire suffers in trying to find a way to keep his company afloat, and the subsequent grief of his family in the aftermath of his suicide.

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I once had a creative writing lecturer who believed that as a plot point, suicide is both boring and easy. But Hansen-Løve has not done that here. While Gregoire’s actions are perhaps readable, the direction that the film takes after them is not. We are given brief glimpses of how each member of the family reacts to the grief: his wife Sylvia tries her best to find a way to rescue Gregoire’s company; his eldest daughter Clementine (Alice de Lencquesaing) tries to find some way of distancing herself from her father by delving into his past. But they are only glimpses. Hansen-Love could conceivably have constructed a narrative following any of our character’s responses but it’s not the point of the film.

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Le Pére also, obviously looks at suicide and in one touching scene between one of Gregoire’s daughters and his best friend Serge, the young girl is told to think of her mother in such a difficult time, to which the child’s bewildered and heart-wrenching response is “Why? Daddy didn’t think of us.” (Paraphrased) Such a simple sentiment from a child who is just about old enough to know what happened but still too young to understand it. And the thing is that no one in the family can really understand it. Serge’s reply to the child is “He did think of you. He loved you. But he was suffering and he forgot.” An equally wonderful answer to give a despairing child. This was, in my opinion the most beautiful scene of the film.

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The fast paced scenes and dialogue are interspersed with quiet interludes of beauty, the scenes Gregoire spends with his family in the countryside. As his business problems worsen, we see the true beauty in his family life hightening, creating a startling contrast between both aspects of his life, and then destroying them in one swift gunshot.

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Despite its serious subject matter, the film never seems to smother under the weightiness of the issues it explores and as the credits roll, we are left feeling curiously uplifted by what is essentially, a wonderful character study of a coping family.

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Everyone should see this film.

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Trailers for all mentioned films available on Youtube.

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Posted in: Reviews