CHANGE THE TUNE | Father of My Children

In making its music a conspicuous cinematic gesture, Father of My Children expresses a poignant yearning for emotional clarity. By Louis Rogers


When it originated in the 19th century, the word “melodrama” first meant a drama with music, drawing on the Greek melos, for music. Mia Hansen-Løve’s Father of My Children deals with melodramatic subjects – despair, death, love, secret children, tested loyalties – but does it cooly, with a preference for minor, in-between moments over dramatic crescendos. It does however, make conspicuous use of music. With a few striking and often angular selections, it sticks in the mind, not necessarily cohesively, as a drama-with-music.

Hansen-Løve opens her film with shots of busy Parisian streets and the unmistakable, jaunty strains of the Modern Lovers’ “Egyptian Reggae”, a track that radiates a carefreeness seeming to establish the film as a lighthearted drama, possibly tending toward screwball. In fact, this is a heavy drama, without being lugubrious: a studied, compassionate depiction of the ramifications of terrible events that ought to belong in fiction within normal life. The sprightly sounds of the Modern Lovers are intriguingly at odds with the realistically complex set of characters and circumstances among which the film opens, hued from the start with stress and anxiety as well as everyday joys. Later, the elder daughter of the family at the centre of the film’s tragic events hears a song at a party – the melancholic 1960s number one “Johnny Remember Me” by John Leyton. The film and the song both are about a death, but the former is luscious and emotionally rounded while the latter is terse and stifled by the unglamorous demands of everyday life. These musical cues seem chosen to characterise the film by dissonance rather than harmony.

Finally, after a rewarding but open-ended resolution, the credits roll over more shots of Paris and that platitudinous classic “Que Sera, Sera” – a conclusion that could belong to a different, more sensational, less interesting film. Father of My Children is set among the mundane, practicalities of the film industry; in making its music – that most potent emotive tool – a conspicuous cinematic gesture, it expresses a poignant yearning for the emotional clarity of the worlds its characters work to create.

 

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