Mia Hansen-Løve discusses 'Father of My Children'

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New Paris-set film ‘Father of My Children’ is an impressive work about families and filmmaking from 29-year-old French director Mia Hansen-Løve

There’s something appropriate about the timing of French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s sublime second film, ‘Father of My Children’. It arrives a month before the fiftieth anniversary of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’. In story, the films couldn’t be further apart: Hansen-Løve’s follows a maverick French film producer in modern day Paris and his precarious attempts to juggle work and family life, while Hitchcock’s is a tale of chronic dementia in smalltown America. Yet both adopt a similar, audacious two-part structure that mischievously tugs the rug from beneath our feet at roughly the mid-point and asks us to reassess completely our relationships to the characters on screen.

Speaking at the 2009 London Film Festival where the film screened as the French Gala, Hansen-Løve only partially agrees with this theory: ‘I wanted to show the death of a film production company,’ she says. ‘If you take the company as the main protagonist, the story becomes neat and chronological.’

She pulled off the the same dual-tier trick with her 2007 debut, ‘Tout Est Pardonné’ (‘All Is Forgiven’), in which a mother and daughter are forced to adapt to some of the father’s more anti-social whims. ‘I see my two films as complementary to one other,’ she says. ‘The themes of mourning, reconstruction and the love between a mother and daughter are in both.’
   
Father of My Children’ has been lauded for its insightful and candid depiction of the film industry, drawing positive comparisons to Altman’s ‘The Player’ and Truffaut’s ‘Day for Night’. The inspiration behind the film was partly Hansen-Løve’s relationship with the late French film producer Humbert Balsan, an ardent cinephile who worked tirelessly to allow directors such as Béla Tarr and Claire Denis to work without restriction.

How did she come into contact with Balsan? ‘I made my first short called “Après Mûre Réflexion” when I was 21,’ she recalls. ‘A couple of years later, at a very small festival, Balsan was the head of the jury and he gave me a prize. A few months later, he saw my name in Cahiers du Cinéma where I was working as a critic, and he phoned me up: I’m told that this is a very rare occurrence as producers don’t usually take initiatives like this! I went along to see him and we had a long meeting and it was decided that he would produce my first film. One of the things that was very important was that he had a huge poster of Bresson’s “Lancelot du Lac” on the wall behind him, which he had acted in. I knew then I was going to be in safe hands.’

What makes ‘Father of My Children’ so refreshing and interesting is that it feels like a visual extension of Hansen-Løve’s preoccupations. Her precise understanding of middle-class mores, her constant nods to the world of independent cinema (there’s a character in the film who could be a conflation of any number of maverick directors), her eclectic musical taste (selections by Lee Hazlewood sit alongside Doris Day) and her love of young actors suggest a sensitive and inquisitive mind at work. ‘What drew me to cinema is that mix of the artistic and the spiritual,’ she says, ‘but I also like dealing pragmatically with the real world, with real things.’

She admits that she only became a film lover relatively late in life. ‘When I was 16, I was studying drama and I was cast in two films by [current beau and father of her child] Olivier Assayas: “Late August, Early September” and “Les Destinées Sentimentales”. That’s when it all started for me.’

The Assayas connection goes further than those two films and the romance. In its representation of the workings of the film industry, ‘Father of My Children’ feels very much like an update of ‘Irma Vep’, Assayas’s witty 1996 chronicle of the filmmaking process. But are we supposed to read the liquidation of a boutique production company as a broader critique on the European film industry where smaller, more leftfield companies are being subsumed and asset-stripped by larger ones?

‘In a sense yes, you can see it like that. But at the same time I wanted to make a very specific film about a very specific situation, about a very specific company and about a very specific person. So it’s got both. There are people who have nothing to do with cinema who come up to me at the end of screenings and say to me, “This is my story!”’

Next she plans to make a film dealing with teenagers, again in a bourgeois setting. ‘Without wanting to make too many comparisons to Eric Rohmer, people always said to him, “Why do you always make films about young women?” And he would always reply, “I only speak about what I know.” I feel exactly the same way.’

Read our review of 'Father of My Children'

Author: David Jenkins



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