Family Affairs: An interview with Mia Hansen-Love

Young French director Mia Hansen-Love discusses her assured new feature The Father of My Children.

Feature by Gail Tolley | 25 Feb 2010
  • The Father of My Children

The Father of My Children is the second feature from Mia Hansen-Love, who at the remarkably young age of 29 has already had a career as an actor  and has garnered critical acclaim for both of her directorial efforts. Her latest film, which won the Special Jury prize at Cannes, seems a surprising work to come from such a young director - for one it shows great maturity; it documents the impact of the death of a film producer (played by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing and inspired by the true story of Humbert Balsan) without frills, over-indulgence or excessive emotion (all easy trappings for young directors eager to make an impression). I met the filmmaker during the London Film Festival where she spoke with great passion and articulation about the project.

The story is inspired by the life of French film producer Humbert Balsan. How do you see the relationship between the film and his life?

The film is indeed inspired by the story of Humbert Balsan who was a producer who helped me a great deal for a year when I was making my first film. But I wrote it very freely which is why I would say it is a film inspired by his story rather than being a biopic. I’m not trying to solve the enigma of his death or explain who he was, it was just a story that touched me and which also expresses certain themes that I was dealing with in my earlier films such as childhood, the passing on of things and loss.

How did you come to cast Louis-Do de Lencquesaing in the central role? And how did you come to choose his real life daughter, Alice de Lencquesaing, to play his daughter in the film?

I knew Louis-Do – I’d seen him in cinema and also on stage. It very quickly became clear that he would be the best actor to play the role because he had the presence and charisma and he would be able to express the character. Louis-Do’s daughter was chosen much later. I knew her already and had seen her as an actress and I knew she was very good but I didn’t want to use Louis-Do’s daughter to play his daughter in the film. So she was chosen much, much later after I had seen many young women but it became obvious that she was the right person.

You’ve said in the past that you wanted to show the characters inherent contradictions – could you explain about this a bit more?

There is always a conflict within the character and in the film between despair and a desire for life and you sense the growing despair. I see his despair even when he is very active, and there is a scene in the film which really expresses that: he’s in the car, he’s doing something quite banal, he phones up someone and asks them for help. It’s shortly before he dies and his voice doesn’t express anything like that, it’s very calm [yet] I’m always very touched by this moment because I can see the despair that this is expressing.

Do you see the film as reflective of a certain aspect of the French film industry?

It’s a very realistic representation of the French cinema industry, of that type of [national, independent] cinema. It’s almost a documentary – the way the offices of the production company are portrayed is very realistic. And I think it’s the first time that the French film industry has been shown in this way.

The Father of My Children in released on 5 March 2010