Female Director Spotlight: Mia Hansen-Løve’s Detailed Portraits of Familial Strife

This month, I wanted to choose a director whose work I had little familiarity with, so that I too would get to experience their filmography for the first time. A few recommendations later (thanks Iana!) and I settled on Mia Hansen-Løve, a French filmmaker whose work I had always intended to get around to watching, but never really did – until now. Hansen-Løve’s films have received widespread critical acclaim, in particular, ‘Things to Come’ in 2016, which stars Isabelle Huppert and won the Silver Bear at Berlinale. Her work has been lauded for its muted and empathetic observations on everyday life, a variety of character and attention to human detail, and the slow artistry of her camera. Sure, her films may not be for everyone; they epitomise the leisurely French drama, concerned with intricate relationships, difficult emotions, and the impact of time. For the right viewer, however, Hansen-Løve’s filmography is a luxurious exhibition of real life, and an experience that I would highly recommend.

 

Fathers and Daughters: ‘All is Forgiven’ (2007) and ‘Father of My Children’ (2009)

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Chiara Caselli, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Manelle Driss, and Alice Gautier in ‘Father of My Children’. © 2009 Les Films du Losange

First features can often be necessary stumbling blocks for filmmakers. In Hansen-Løve’s case, however, her first two films, which both focus on familial difficulties, immediately landed on their feet, contributing an assured, refined start to her career and easily holding up against her later works.

‘All is Forgiven’ begins sweetly, illustrating the bond between French writer, Victor, and his young daughter Pamela. Victor is struggling in his academic life, but his role as a father seems assured – until he begins to use drugs in order to combat his listless depression. As his life begins to unravel, he must also sacrifice his relationships with his wife and daughter, and this sad certainty is both heart-breaking and frustrating to witness. Hansen-Løve’s careful navigation of a flawed yet likable character is masterful even from the very beginning of her filmography, and it’s difficult not to become incredibly attached to the fate of the relationships that are at stake within Victor’s life. This measured approach to the fragility of the nuclear family makes ‘All is Forgiven’ a criminally underseen gem in Hansen-Løve’s filmography, and an absolute must-watch for fans of her style.

Her next film, 2009’s ‘Father of My Children’ focuses on similar themes and features the same warring nature of the personal versus the familial. Grégoire is a film producer who spends most of his time wrangling flighty directors, attempting to finance multiple failing shoots, and struggling under the weight of his debt. Amongst all this, it’s easy to understand how his role as a husband and a father to three daughters may become side-lined. This pressure comes to a devastating head and, as per usual, Hansen-Løve’s script contains a genuine edge that paints an image of this struggle so realistic that Gregoire’s inevitable fall is both tragic and mesmerising to watch. The film is a great starting point for an introduction into the director’s work, as it shows the humanity of her style at its very best, whilst maintaining an engaging pace and storyline that is kind to those who may not always enjoy a slow-burn.

 

Youth and Obsession: ‘Goodbye First Love’ (2011)

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Lola Créton and Sebastian Urzendowsky in ‘Goodbye First Love’. © 2012 IFC Films

Delving once more into the depths of complex human relations, Hansen-Løve’s third feature, ‘Goodbye First Love’, observes the heartache of young love, and the reluctance to let go of this seminal experience. Fifteen-year-old Camille has fallen head over heels for older teenager Sullivan, a free spirit who seeks to travel the world and find peace with himself. Their goals are ultimately incompatible: Camille is focused on her schoolwork and their blossoming relationship, whilst Sullivan struggles to commit, his heart set on a nomadic life in Latin America. Their romance is sweet and gentle, but inevitably, Sullivan leaves to pursue his dreams, breaking Camille’s heart. The most poignant element of this film, however – and what sets it apart from many others – is that Hansen-Løve continues to focus on Camille and her development as a person in relation to her experience with Sullivan. Time moves effortlessly through the film as she grows from a teenage girl into a young woman, chronicling an interest in architecture and a relationship with a man twenty years her senior. Sullivan and Camille meet again by chance, but neither of them are the same people as they were before. The rediscovery of each other provokes equal parts euphoria and agony, and these twists of passion are never boiled down to anything simplistic or manageable. Instead, Hansen-Løve leaves the viewer to consider the minefield that is young love, and the morality of the choices made in its pursuit.

 

Loss and Recovery: ‘Things to Come’ (2016)

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Isabelle Huppert in ‘Things to Come’. © 2016 Curzon Artificial Eye

Pairing a director such as Hansen-Løve with a talent such as Isabelle Huppert can only lead to beautiful results, and ‘Things to Come’ is fine evidence of this. Huppert plays Nathalie, a philosophy professor who must juggle her conservative husband, her difficult mother and her increasingly politicised career. The breakdown of her once stable life and the losses she incurs as a result are examined empathetically by both director and actress: Huppert is a wonder to behold, embedding equal strength and vulnerability to a layered character; once an outspoken communist (as she claims all intellectuals are, for three years at least), she now settles with encouraging youth to think for themselves. One particular protégé, Fabien, is a radical whose character provides an outlet both for Nathalie’s philosophical thoughts and an alternative to the dry realities of middle age. Huppert’s performance is stunningly understated, and Hansen-Løve’s script brings out the very best of an extraordinary actress, with a warm, effortless empathy. A particular highlight can be found in Nathalie’s relationship with her mother’s old, overweight cat, who shifts from burden to reluctantly beloved pet over time, seamlessly encapsulating the changing nature of life and circumstance. Simply put, ‘Things to Come’ is a perfect film, and forms the very best of an already impressive filmography.

 

Other Work

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Félix de Givry in ‘Eden’. © 2014 Sundance Institute

Of course, not every film can strike the right chord, no matter how great the director – and this was most certainly the case with myself and 2014’s ‘Eden’. The film focuses on the garage music scene in Paris, and the trials associated with living as an artist. It’s a common story and a narrative that Hansen-Løve fully commits to, but unfortunately, I found myself fairly bored with the self-involved characters. That said, I’m not exactly a music person, and many musical friends have found the film to be incredibly true to reality, so I’d certainly recommend giving this one a try if the premise interests you.

In addition to this feature, Hansen-Løve also directed six short films between 2003 and 2005, which I was unfortunately unable to get ahold of.

Future Projects

‘Things to Come’ appears to have been somewhat of a landmark for Hansen-Løve’s career; her upcoming projects are very promising and suggest a bigger budget, more mainstream route for her future films. The director is currently filming ‘Maya’, a French drama which follows a French war reporter who is taken hostage in Syria. There’s not a great deal of information out there as of yet, but the release is currently scheduled for 2018, suggesting we’ll be seeing more of Hansen-Løve very soon. More recently announced is ‘Bergman Island’, in an English-language debut for the director. The drama boasts a talented initial cast of Greta Gerwig, Mia Wasikowska and John Turturro, a trio of indie darlings who will doubtlessly introduce a whole new audience to Hansen-Løve’s skilful filmmaking.

 

Have a suggestion for our monthly female director spotlight? Contact me at @muchadocinema or @angiebouchards and let me know!

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