Father of My Children, The: Interview with Director Mia Hansen-Love

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How did you get the idea for the movie? Where did the inspiration come from?
 
The film stems from my encounter with Humbert Balsan. I first met him in early 2004. He committed suicide in February 2005. He wanted to produce my first film. His enthusiasm and trust were decisive for me in my first feature, ALL IS FORGIVEN. I didn't write this movie out of gratitude, but because of Humbert Balsan's personality.
 
He had an exceptional warmth, elegance and aura. His energy, passion for films and sensitivity, which I took to be an invincible inner beauty, are what made me write the movie. Of course, there is also his suicide. The feelings of failure and despair that it reveals are overwhelming, but that doesn't replace the rest.
It doesn't become the only truth. I wanted the film to express the paradox of contradictory movements within the same person, the conflict that can occur between light and darkness, strength and vulnerability, the desire to live and the urge to die.
 
At the same time, you have made a film about the cinema or the world of cinema. You emphasize the collective and very tangible aspects of the process, the preparation of a shoot, financial difficulties, with the focus on a pivotal character, the producer.
 
A few years ago, no theme would have struck me as less stimulating for a movie than independent cinema. Probably by being too close to home, too mundane… But that encounter with Humbert Balsan and his death changed all that and gave me a completely different perspective on cinema. It occurred to me that a film about a producer could be a film about work, commitment, love and life. Most often, when I see a producer on screen, I don't see the cinema as I understand it and experience it as part of my daily life. It's a more far-removed fantasy. So, it was even more gratifying to depict the cinema through my perspective and experience because it offered an empty canvas and fascinating raw material for human relationships. Money is such an important issue in the movie, I think, because it's the reality. Whichever way you look at it, the producer's job is synonymous with financial concerns. Filmmakers share this preoccupation but not in the same way, nor to the same extent, because the dangers to which it exposes them are different. A filmmaker has a relatively fundamental and healthy relationship to money: being constantly confronted with financial realities is the price to pay for practicing your art. For a producer, chasing after funding can become alienating and lead to a dilemma (I'm referring here to producers who aim to produce the work of artists). On the one hand, there's a noble, ambitious vision of their trade, and on the other, huge loneliness, and economic and moral suffocation due to the constant pressure that comes from taking risks in a context that is relatively unfavorable economically and culturally.
 
Your film shows a man of charisma at his peak. The character has an aura, lots of charm. But difficulties add up and you show him subsiding, being crushed.
 
I'd say that his doubts and despondency are there at the start, under the surface and occasionally visible in Louis-Do de Lencquesaing's expressions and silences. But generally they're soaked up in the pleasure he gets from his job and the company of his wife and daughters. Even so, anxiety and lassitude creep forward until, just before his suicide, Grégoire Canvel is overwhelmed by despair, which is even more powerful because it has been powerfully repressed. The film tries to show how this life force – his extraordinary capacity to repress things – eventually becomes a terribly self-destructive force.
 
The death occurs about halfway through the film. It's an impressive choice to film bereavement and the way each person gets on with their life…
 
More than bereavement, I'd say the film talks about starting over. That's why the death occurs in the middle, not at the end or beginning. This symmetrical structure shows a progression, reflecting the sense of starting over for every person involved in Canvel's life. The producer's death isn't the end of the story, it's a central moment in a story that goes beyond his death. The film can also be seen as the last days of Moon Films, a production company and a life's work that is both personal and collective.
 
The children play a very important role in the film. They must each find a way to overcome their loss. For the oldest child, Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing), that means breaking into the movies…
 
Coming off ALL IS FORGIVEN, I couldn't imagine not working with children again. I wanted to keep that momentum going, take it further. On set, the children's presence and subsequent disorder, their happiness and fragility are extremely precious. They're an amazing breath of fresh air in what can be a stifling atmosphere.
 
Their role in the film is close to what they represent for me! Each child grieves differently, and these differences became clearer on set depending on their age and personality. At the end of the movie, Clémence becomes more prominent, almost the lead character. It reflects the emancipation that is taking shape. Emancipation but also the assumption of a spiritual legacy, as suggested by the bond that develops with Arthur, the young filmmaker. In that respect, this film mirrors my first feature.
 
As in ALL IS FORGIVEN, the prevailing feeling in your second film is one of clarity. People and things take on an amazing light, even in spiritual terms.
 
Clarity is what I consciously set out to achieve. The word became essential for me when I started writing about films. I seem to remember reading a text by Eric Rohmer in which he quotes Stendhal as referring to the "slightly abrupt clarity" that might define French art. I look for clarity because it's what moves me, what gives me the sense of accessing a vital something, the infinite part of each being and each thing, without style getting in the way. Although I don't believe in God, for me, the cinema can't be anything other than a quest for light, which is a quest for the invisible.