The Death of a Producer

July 27th, 2010 § 1 comment

pride & prejudiceWhile pondering who might be the current audience for foreign films about familial drama, I found myself wondering why is that the intricate narrative of family life is considered to be a female form of entertainment. Like those books girls read as teenagers—Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Mrs. Dalloway—that boys (and later men) are sure to dismiss, understanding the treacherous but fascinating web of family is of interest only to us. What is most frustrating in a post feminist society is not that our contributions are still dismissed, undervalued, and exploited. These problems in the late 20th and 21st century have taken on a good bit of elasticity, in that we are less dismissed, undervalued, and exploited. The problem for my generation of women is one of interest, or what seems to be a shocking inequality of it. While most women enjoy the tastes and interests of men, after centuries of having no choice, so little effort is made by men to enjoy the tastes and interests of women. In the case of filmmaking it could be said that our stories, and the perspective from which we tell them, might receive the proper critical attention—Bright Star, The Hurt Locker, Lost In Translation—but they also garner unnecessary anger and more often complete indifference from mass audiences. Preferring anger, the disinterest is a stinging snub with a subtext of, we don’t think you make bad films because we won’t even watch them. Less than nine percent of directors in Hollywood today are women, and if their movies go unwatched, be they about poetry, war, or intimacy, should we be fighting for more representation or more interest? Obviously both.

 

Sofia CoppolaWomen, famously noted by Laura Mulvey in the 1970’s, have the wonderful ability to be interested in films made for an intended audience that is certainly not us. While I don’t have any interest in giving up my ability to enjoy that which is not made from a female perspective or even with female viewers in mind, Matthew Barney’s Cremaster film’s for example, there is little movement from men to expand their preferred tastes. As I excitedly await the arrival of Jim Thompson’s gory noir thriller The Killer Inside Me, I can’t think of many men who delve, and with pleasure, into a genre of feminine entertainment. In this sense there still is a discrepancy between gender and taste, a gap sadly maintained by willful ignorance, a dash of insecurity, and an absurd belief that a feminine perspective, this many years after female emancipation, has little to offer. While Sweden is implementing maternity leave for men, American men still feel that films about family are not for them.

Mia Hansen-Løve

The question of who these films are for is an interesting one because there certainly seems to be a demand for them. In recent years a number of films with stories of estrangement, disconnection, and dysfunction have been released, most of them from France—Summer Hours, I’ve Loved You so Long, and most recently The Father of My Children. This latest film suffers from three fundamental problems that result in a general disinterest of it: it is the second film impressively written and directed by 29-year-old Mia Hansen-Løve, it is about the life and death of a family’s father, and it’s title, The Father of My Children (Le pere de mes enfants), does not seem to have been a wise choice. The film is more about death, various different kinds, than it is about family, and is a film about the individuals who make up this particular family. It does feel bizarre to be reduced to arguing a good film’s validity based on the claim that it has misled people into thinking that it is about family.

Le pere de mes enfants

The first half of The Father of My Children focuses on the life of the protagonist, our father figure, and his worklife. Grégoire Canvel, a Parisian movie producer played by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, is a suave, chain-smoking Frenchman of a different breed than the prissy ones I knew while living in Montpellier. Canvel, a formerly successful producer, is a man who risks his livelihood, and his families, on art. He finances the films of brilliant but impossible directors with the firm belief that his potential ruin could be worth the price of a great film. He spends what little free time he has reading the screenplay of a young boy, as he looks for future talent in the young and unlikely. More than family, this is a film about art and filmmaking, and it questions the price, both literally and metaphorically, of investing so much time, money, and faith in cinema. Patrons, philanthropists, and producers are sometimes the forgotten someone’s behind the life and work of a great many of our cherished artists. I was reminded of this most recently while reading in Patti Smith’s Just Kids an account of Robert Mapplethorpe’s forgotten patron, partner, and collector, Sam Wagstaff. This film tells the story of an unusual kind of creativity and vision, of an unglamorous, behind-the-scenes role, and the struggles of one man trying to work within a limiting system while still producing wonderful films. When he no longer can, he puts a gun to his head and dies on an abandoned sidewalk by the gutter.

The Father of My Children

Though the film focuses on Canvel, it is based on Hansen-Løve’s own experience of working with a similar producer named Humbert Balsan. In the film Canvel‘s death leaves behind four women, his wife and three daughters, and his debt-ridden company. Though his wife does her best to save Canvel‘s company, his films in progress, and his portfolio, she does so with little success, and the second half of the film is about a very un-American kind of acceptance and perseverance. It does not dwell in grief or sadness, but examines a man’s legacy through the eyes of his young children. He wasn’t who they thought he was, he won’t see any of them grow up, but he was their father, and as their mother tells them, his death does not negate his life.

Though the latter half of the film feels slightly flippant, like an overly objective documentary, I believe its distance makes the film more authentic. The horrific finality of the death of a depressed father is not what we want to feel while watching this film, though we certain do, it’s something we want to see. Because we wish to make tangible that which is lost, we need to see the repercussions of Canvel‘s suicide etched permanently into the character of the family. Loss and grief, however, don’t in reality exist that way no matter how much we want to see it. People don’t wear their tragedies like flashy garments, and its only once in a great while that you notice those feelings of sadness lurking in those who have suffered from this kind of loss. The real legacy of their father lives subtlety within them. As the credits roll and the family drives away from Paris into a future life, the song Que Sera, Sera accompanies them. Given the chance, The Father of My Children could prove more relevant and insightful than you might initially think.

§ One Response to The Death of a Producer

  • Lisa Wilcox says:

    Somewhat tangentially, this note from John Scalzi:

    “Have you ever heard of the Bechdel test? It’s a test, popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, that asks three questions of movies:

    1. Are there at least two women characters in the film?
    2. Who talk to each other?
    3. About something other than a man?

    If a film fulfills all three, then it passes the Bechdel test. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. The point of the Bechdel test, among other things, is to note that even here, in the twenty-first century, the role of women in film is very often to be support for the male roles or to keep the story and audience focused on the male protagonist. Whether that means something to you or not is really up to you, but, as a creative person myself, I do find it an interesting test to apply to my own work.”

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