TIFF's Summer in France sidebar spotlights the films of Mia Hansen-Løve.
At just 31 years of age, French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve might seem an unlikely subject for a Lightbox retrospective. And all the more so when that retrospective is a sidebar to TIFF’s ongoing Summer in France program, which celebrates several of the most widely revered filmmakers of all time. But with three acclaimed features and a Cannes Special Jury Prize already to her name, the precocious former actress and film critic is fast becoming one of the pre-eminent young voices in contemporary French cinema. Having already forged a delicate, emotionally perceptive style that is all her own, Hansen-Løve exemplifies the auteurist tradition championed by the luminaries of the French New Wave. That continuity makes Fathers and Daughters less a typical retrospective than a bridging of the gap between past and future.
Further bolstering Hansen-Løve’s links to the legendary generation of mid-century cinéastes is the fact that, like Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, and Francois Truffaut, she cut her teeth writing for the prestigious Cahiers du Cinéma before taking up filmmaking in her own right.
Speaking via phone from Paris, Hansen-Løve explains that, from the beginning, she’d hoped to follow in the footsteps of those New Wave directors: “When I started writing for Cahiers du Cinéma, I already knew I wanted to become a filmmaker. I thought that spending some time as a critic would be the best school for me for many reasons, one of them being that I have always felt a lot of affection for writing, and feel that there is an important relationship between making films and writing. The time I spent there helped me better understand my own relationship to cinema, and also encouraged me to be much more demanding of myself.”
Hansen-Løve’s subtle, elliptical approach to storytelling gives even her first feature a distinct signature, but she eagerly acknowledges a debt to past masters: “I really always thought of myself of being an inheritor of the filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, as well as what came before and after—filmmakers like Truffaut, Maurice Pialat, Jean Eustache, Phillippe Garrel, Robert Bresson, and Jean Renoir. I have always felt close to them because their ways of filming, the way they look at people, the way they’d work with actors, what they’d write, their personalities—everything appealed to me, and was close to my own sensibility.”
Fittingly, intergenerational continuity is one of Hansen-Løve’s most prominent themes. Her startlingly mature debut—2007’s Tout est pardonné (August 23, 6:30 p.m.)—begins as a wrenching portrait of paternal estrangement before abruptly advancing by a decade, at which point it becomes a bittersweet depiction of a daughter’s tentative responses to her father’s gestures of reconciliation.
She employs a similarly bifurcated, transgenerational structure in 2009′s award-winning The Father of My Children (August 24, 6:15 p.m.). Building impressively upon the promise of its predecessor, Hansen-Løve’s sophomore effort is an affecting fictionalized tribute to late French film producer Humbert Balsan, who was one of her earliest patrons.
“When he died I felt as though I’d lost someone very important to me, not only because he helped me and understood my work,” Hansen-Løve says of Balsan. “To me, he represented energy. He represented the world of cinema. He represented total artistic accomplishment. He was so luminous. But at the same time there was also a kind of melancholy that he used to produce something extremely positive; he was able to transform it into something very lively. It’s what I was hoping to do with films.”
The Father of My Children intimately surveys the professional and personal consequences of its protagonist’s relentless artistic devotion. Once again, Hansen-Løve shifts focus mid-film, this time to ponder the question of what it means to leave a legacy. The ultimate result is a resonant, beautifully rendered family drama that also offers rare insight into the world of independent film production.
Hansen-Løve’s third and most directly autobiographical film—2011′s Goodbye First Love (August 25, 5 p.m.)—is of a piece with her previous output, even as it relaxes her focus on father-daughter dynamics. Against the context of an intense, ill-fated adolescent romance, Hansen-Løve continues her exploration of inspiration derived from moments of personal crisis. Here, the filmmaker’s young avatar (played superbly by 16-year-old Lola Créton) emerges from the despair of heartbreak to discover her vocation, as well as a new relationship with an older mentor (mirroring Hansen-Løve’s real-life marriage to fellow director Olivier Assayas).
Above all, Hansen-Løve conceives of her three films as a loose trilogy about the transformations entailed by coming of age. “It’s not accidental that the daughters are all 15, 16, or 17 for the majority of each film,” she notes. “It’s not only about the relationship between fathers and daughters, it’s about that particular age where you separate from your family and become an adult.”
Hansen-Løve will be on hand at the Lightbox to personally introduce each screening. But she’s also keen to further her own development, and determined not to rest on her laurels: “I’m glad that the retrospective is called Fathers and Daughters, because it helps me to think that this time is over. To me there is something about these three films that makes them very close to each other. But that’s also something that I need to get away from, that I’m over with.”
Images courtesy of TIFF. For screening tickets, visit tiff.net.