Aug. 23-25 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The young women in the first three features by Mia Hansen-Løve have many difficult lessons to learn, but one may be more dispiriting than the rest. This is the distinct possibility that the uncertainty and turmoil we experience in adolescence do not recede with age—instead, they may recur in different guises throughout the rest of our lives.
A 32-year-old director who began her career as an actor in the movies of Olivier Assayas before becoming a critic and then a filmmaker herself, Hansen-Løve displays an acute awareness of the delicate exchanges and emotional negotiations that are constantly taking place between her teenaged heroines and the people they look to for love and guidance. What’s more, she’s able to explore and convey this complex terrain with a minimum of sentimentality and an abundance of Gallic elegance.
In her 2007 feature debut, Tout est pardonné—which makes its Toronto premiere at Lightbox on Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with Hansen-Løve in attendance—the central figure is Pamela (Constance Rousseau), a Parisienne who has a fraught reunion with her father, Victor (Paul Blain), a man whose slide into drug addiction caused him to abandon the family a decade before. And while the film may owe too much of its voice and style to Hansen-Løve’s strongest influences—most prominently François Truffaut, Maurice Pialat and Assayas, to whom she is now married—it still boasts great clarity and precision.
The same is true of The Father of My Children, the wrenching drama that became her breakthrough on the festival circuit after its Cannes debut in 2009 (it screens Aug. 24 at 6:15 p.m.). As per the title, it’s the father who is initially the most prominent figure. A character based on Humbert Balsan—a producer of films by Lars von Trier and Béla Tarr who committed suicide in 2005—Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) seems sincerely devoted to his wife and three daughters, but his professional troubles compel him to make a tragic choice. In the aftermath, eldest daughter Cleménce (Louis-Do’s daughter Alice) struggles to conceive of a family life without him.
Due to its poignant yet intelligent approach to a difficult subject and its wider array of characters, The Father of My Children initially seems richer than its more myopic 2011 follow-up, which follows yet another young woman through her earliest experiences of love. Yet Goodbye First Love (screening Aug. 25 at 5 p.m.) is less about a search for romantic fulfillment than a quest for self-definition on the part of Lola Créton’s central waif, Camille. Because if there’s a single life skill that Hansen-Løve most strongly wants to impart to her characters, it’s how to recognize the holes in our hearts that other people are not meant to fill.