Observational approaches to cinematic storytelling can easily shade into aloofness, as evidenced by Mia Hansen-Løve’s The Father Of My Children, a delicate slice of life that demonstrates too much remove. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing stars as a French movie producer trying to preserve his legacy by holding onto the rights to his back catalog, in spite of debts that may force him to sell it all off. The story follows his meetings with creditors, his squabbles with brilliant-but-stubborn filmmakers, and the family gatherings where he pretends everything’s fine. Where some directors might turn the details of everyday anxiety into audience-friendly dramedy, complete with punchlines and big beats, Hansen-Løve remains an intimate but non-judgmental observer of her characters, and doesn’t treat any one moment in her film with any special emphasis. It’s refreshing not to be led along or handled by a filmmaker, but given the almost-novelistic structure of The Father Of My Children—which juggles half a dozen or so major characters and follows their reaction to a crisis in obsessive detail—the movie could stand to be a little more dynamic.
Granted, it’s fascinating to look behind the scenes of the arthouse business—especially with the foreknowledge that the movie is based on real-life producer Humbert Balsan and his trials with prickly auteurs Béla Tarr and Lars von Trier—and Hansen-Løve adroitly captures how money troubles can warp perspective. The Father Of My Children is similar to the recent A Serious Man, in that both are about men whose problems pile up like a traffic jam. But where the Coen brothers are aggressive stylists, Hansen-Løve doesn’t do much with her camera—again, by design. The Father Of My Children is largely about how life drifts by, and how we don’t always leave the mark in the world that we’d hoped, so Hansen-Løve resists the urge to overdramatize or over-stress. Yet without a little brio, there’s a lingering feeling of “nothing’s really happening here.” Hansen-Løve ends The Father Of My Children with the song “Que Sera Sera,” intending to leave her story with a Zen-like expression of acceptance. But the word from that song that lingers after the movie is over—intentionally or not—is “whatever.”