In the first ten minutes of The Father of My Children, Paris film producer Grégoire Canvel has upwards of six cell-phone conversations. The introduction (playfully preceded by Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae") is worth mentioning not because Grégoire is a yappy whirlwind—on the contrary, he's too poised and reassuring to break a sweat—but for the elegantly brisk storytelling that it reflects. For her second feature, Mia Hansen-Løve finds a kind of candid discretion in portraying the quixotic Grégoire, his family (wife, two bustling moppets, teen), and the disastrous pressures exacted on this family and his extended office-family by headlong artist-friendly productions and magical accounting.
The occasional obliqueness keeps the story moving in more than one sense, which well suits the hurdles of the material that inspired it: the 2005 suicide of Humbert Balsan, an haute-born producer whose dedication made him a symbol far beyond the influence of his projects (which included films by Youssef Chahine and Claire Denis). Father of My Children does not require knowledge of the backstory, which reviews have withheld as if the impact of the film depends upon surprise. Hansen-Løve succeeds in cliché-challenged milieus: behind-the-scenes moviemaking, children vying for parental attention, the secret-but-not-really-puzzling puzzle of early exits. As Grégoire, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing suggests easy charm, and his daughter Alice, as Humbert's eldest daughter, seems set to be the go-to actress for thoughtful headstrong Paris teenagers (cf. Summer Hours ); Chiara Caselli plays the quietly forbearing wife.
Father admittedly benefits from Desplechin-and-Assayas cosmopolitanism, where the patrimony of a sun-dappled countryhouse is never far off and Lee Hazlewood plays at parties. Hansen-Løve's film glides with a deceptively fleet touch akin to Summer Hours ; she wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma and before that appeared in two films by Assayas (her partner). There's marvelous hope beneath the surface as the story is handed off to Humbert's eldest daughter, revealing the flip side to a death in the family: others are reborn as they emerge from the shadow of grief.
Revived for its 50th anniversary in a fresh digital restoration (distinct, dear superfans, from the Criterion version), Godard's Breathless also hinged on an act of faith by its own debt-ridden producer, Georges de Beauregard. The gamble paid off—critically, commercially (in spades), cinematically—with this hood-on-the-run tale delightfully fractured by a 25-minute trying-to-get-in-her-pants hotel-room afternoon. The film's impatient innovation and compression aren't always apparent on a first viewing (barring the over-mythologized jump cuts), but as vicarious New Wave lifestyle, it tends to induce instant nostalgia—Jean Seberg's dilettante American abroad with experimental ethics and timeless crop-cut do, Jean-Paul Belmondo's clown-mouthed horndog Michel parroting a fatalist movie star's dialogue, all set to Rouch-rapid street shooting and Martial Solal's mischievous score. That walk-up hotel scene recalls a line in Belmondo's earlier short with Godard, Charlotte and Her Jules —cinema is "a big head making faces in a little room"—and the bratty young turk's impatience must have partly come from recognizing how very ripe the moment was for a film pastiching the best techniques and bits from 50 years' of cinema (and cinephilia). Looking and sounding bright and fast in this print (shepherded by living legend, DP Raoul Coutard), this might be the only piece of essential cinema to end, with Godardian gall (per the revamped subtitles), on the line "What's puke?"
Both films open May 28