To say that Mia Hanson-Love’s film deals with the aftermath of a family tragedy—which is about as specific as one can get about the plot of “Father of My Children” without spoiling its effect—might unfairly seem to suggest that it’s a French Lifetime movie. But Hanson-Love takes material that might have invited maudlin treatment and makes it into thoughtful and intelligent drama.
For nearly an hour the picture follows film producer Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) as he works overtime juggling the projects he currently has in underway with his creditors’ demands and the expectations of his family—wife Sylvia (Sylvia Caselli) and daughters Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing), Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss). He’s a charming, apparently calm man, and the time he spends with his family is obviously loving. But as the picture unfolds, quietly and without melodramatic flourishes, it becomes apparent that Canvel, whose mission has been to promote promising filmmakers, is in serious professional difficulty.
At the halfway point the family dynamic is destroyed by a violent act, and Sylvia and her daughters are left to try to pick up the pieces, both in terms of their domestic needs and the burdens crushing Gregoire’s business. You might expect that the situation would lead to mawkishness and constant tugging at the heartstrings, but it doesn’t; the treatment instead is discreet, and all the more moving for being so.
This is a film that portrays a subject that could easily have become cloying with an austere, penetrating eye. The performances by the adults is beautifully modulated, and that of the three girls touchingly real. The naturalistic production and elegant choice of music add to the quality feel. You can call “Father of My Children” soap opera if you like, but if so, please give us more like it.