Grief-stricken: THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN and ANOTHER EARTH
Recently I’ve seen two very different films that deal explicitly with grief, Mia Hansen-Løve’s THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN and Mike Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH. One’s a drama, and very French at that. The other a science fiction melodrama, and quite American. I saw them nearly back to back and the experience inspired a few thoughts. First, WOW – these directors are really young (Love 29 when she made her film; Cahill 32). Second, how bold (in a good way) to mine this experience of family and loss from an adult (parent, spouse) perspective from the other side (that is, under 40). Third, does it work?
In Hansen-Løve’s case, YES, and it’s extraordinary. A woman in her late 20s makes a film that investigates the complex emotions of a man in his 40s (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), who’s on his second family, has a failing business, a complicated marriage and three daughters. Hansen-Løve’s camera stays so close to his experience and the mundane spiral of a slow-motion failure, that the diffused circumstances conspire to make an achingly real scenario. When tragedy strikes in the midst of all this, it’s treated with the same intimacy, but also the same banality, and that, in essence, is the film’s strength.
Cahill’s film, on the other hand, is filled with sweeping events – here’s where the Americanism and influence of Hollywood comes in – some credible, some not. (Spoiler alert!) A teen-aged aspiring astrophysicist (Brit Marling) is driving drunk when her car obliterates two-thirds of a young family. After her release from jail she seeks out the grieving husband and father, but conceals her identity (as it’s revealed later he wanted no information on the minor who killed his family). You can imagine what happens next. It’s sweeping, lacks credibility and is strangely unaffecting. Still, ANOTHER EARTH is conceptually spectacular and contains a few breathtaking moments that make it stand out from its peers. At its core, however, it’s still about the intersection of a young woman with a man who’s lost his family. And the way in which that loss is rendered – by director young or old – matters tremendously. Cahill gives us representations of grief – a dirty house, sloppy clothing. Hansen-Løve makes us live it, moment by mundane moment.