The films of Mia Hansen-Løve: ‘Tout est pardonné’ and ‘Le père de mes enfants’

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Tout est pardonné (eng: All is Forgiven)

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Written by Mia Hansen-Løve

France, 2007

Watching with a critical eye, one will find Mia Hansen-Løve’s debut feature, Tout est pardonné, curiously out of focus; as in, it strongly lacks any. Although well-meaning and decorous, Tout est pardonné has too many points of interest that dull the overall impact of the film, making it less affecting than it should’ve been.

The story opens up in Vienna where Victor (Paul Blain), a shiftless French writer, is married to Annette (Marie-Christine Friedrich), his Austrian wife. Together, they have a six-year-old daughter named Pamela (Victoire Rousseau).

Unable to really communicate with either of them, especially Annette, Victor turns to drugs and is slowly consumed with an addiction, and at first, this seems to be the film’s raison d’être. We’re supposed to witness the spiraling effects of his drug habit and how it ultimately wrecks his home life, but Ms. Hansen-Løve chooses to focus more on the latter than the former.

Jump forward eleven years later, and the focus of the film has changed entirely. We no longer follow the point of view of Victor, now we follow the life of a grownup Pamela (Constance Rousseau). This is extremely problematic because in the first half of the film, Pamela doesn’t play a significant part at all. The movie never presents a basis for how she feels, how she thinks, or how she was affected by the divorce and separation (which aren’t depicted), so we’re left wondering why we have to watch her story at all.

Taken on its own merits, the second half of the movie functions as a run-of-the-mill reunion-type narrative between a father and daughter. In fact, the question of Victor’s addiction is never really brought up again, and plays no role for the rest of the film. So one has to ask, why is it even important? Why is the film’s first half devoted to something that doesn’t even matter?

At the heart of Tout est pardonné is a simple story about a daughter’s tenuous relationship with her father, but because this story doesn’t present itself until halfway into the movie, and because the half that preceded it is frustratingly irrelevant, the film winds up as an unfocused mess that lacks the proper emotional impact.

Le père de mes enfants (eng: Father of My Children)

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Written by Mia Hansen-Løve

France, 2009

It’s hard to think about Le père de mes enfants in its entirety without recalling what happens in the beginning of the second half. What happens is powerful, moving, and significant, but the key to fully appreciating this moment is to come into it with virgin expectations. In fact, this précis alone can feel like it’s spoiling too much.

However, dissecting a film by French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve as a tale of two halves almost seems par for the course, with her debut feature, Tout est pardonné, sharing a similar duality when it comes to narrative structure. But unlike her first endeavor, Le père de mes enfants has a second half that’s strongly apropos to the first, providing the emotional impact that was lacking in her previous film.

The story follows Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a struggling French film producer who balances his incredibly demanding job with his family life, which consists of his wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and their three daughters Clémence, Valentine and Billie (played by Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss respectively).

The most touching scenes in the first half are not the ones where Grégoire fumbles and staggers through his many duties as the boss of his production company (although they are fairly humorous and serve as an interesting look into the industry). No, it’s his interactions with his family, especially with his daughters.

These moments are handled with pure charm and naturalism, capturing a relationship that feels incredibly real and tangible. We get an acute and actual sense of the bond that exists between the characters, which is important because they become integral in understanding the character motivations in the second half.

When the second half does kick off (following a scene that we’ll call ‘the incident’ from here on out), we are able to fully comprehend why everyone is doing what they’re doing precisely because of what goes on in the film’s first half. It gives context to the situations, which makes them even more emotionally stirring.

Furthermore, Le père de mes enfants handles the touchy subject that revolves around ‘the incident’ with ample prudence and a different perspective. Unlike in most other films, Ms. Hansen-Løve chooses to focus more on the consequences and aftermath of ‘the incident’, forcing us to think about the value and nature of life.

Le père de mes enfants is a great sophomore effort for Ms. Hansen-Løve because it corrects all of the faults that hampered her novice effort. The film is impeccable in almost every single way, culminating in the final scene of the movie and its fitting use of the popular Jay Livingston and Ray Evans song, Que Sera, Sera.

– Justin Li

 

For more info and tickets for Fathers and Daughters: The Films of Mia Hansen-Løve, please visit tiff.net

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