French writer-director Mia Hansen-Love’s second film, The Father of My Children (which plays this evening at the Walter Reade and tomorrow night at MoMA as part of New Directors/New Films), is about the logistical chaos of filmmaking, the immense emotional toll of debt loading, and, finally, the grueling task of preserving a legacy—in that exact order. Hansen-Løve makes this progression seem fluid, though, not so much staging scenes as patiently observing them amid the noise of her meticulous re-creation of the everyday. Both home and office life here are in a convincingly naturalistic state of flux.
The film hinges on the startling halfway-point suicide of the father of the title, Gregoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a film producer whose respected but stretched-too-thin company, Moon Films, is teetering on the brink of insolvency, a lab debt and a wildly overbudget Swedish production proving particularly ruinous. (The story of producer Humbert Balsan served as the film’s inspiration.)
After his death, Grégoire’s wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), and their three young daughters—previously regarded affectionately but with visible exhaustion by their father after his marathon days of appointments and phone calls—come into focus.
While the before and after of the suicide form distinct parts, Hansen-Love’s film in no way feels bifurcated or divided, attentive as it is to small-scale shifts in feeling and the way life just moves on. The business of grieving here is also the business of filmmaking: Sylvia, often with her daughters in tow, initially tries to proceed the way Gregoire “would have wanted,” though continuing the mission of his overcollateralized catalogue of international art films comes to seem less and less feasible. This final section of the film, in which Sylvia devotes herself to resolving her husband’s affairs and her daughters make tentative forays back into their former playfulness, is particularly poignant. But there’s hardly a false step in the entire thing.