First I must make reference to this fantastic piece written with reference to but perhaps not particularly ‘about’ the film in question by Lisa Rosman at indiewire.
As fortune or confirmation bias would have it – I stumbled upon another instance of what I would classify as an ‘anti-black comedy’ just as I was wondering which film I was going to write about next. All of the hallmarks are here – an abandonment of narrative threading, an examination of the need for uncomplicated human compassion either because of or regardless of the complexities thrust upon people, and the exhibition of several examples of acts of unconditional love. The idea that such a simple concept could not only be of primary importance is not revelatory by any means, but this film both depicts the troubles of allowing the relatively unfulfilling complexities of the world to overwhelm the importance of the simple elements and dissipates the tension of a dramatic suicide through contrast of compassionate interactions transcending the fleeting importance of a set of material properties whose liquidation is personally welcomed by the bereaved family. It is fascinating to me that this relatively explicit renunciation of success and property was made by the romantic partner of Olivier Assayas, the director of a film in Summer Hours that thoroughly confused me as to its tone on these same issues. Was it a straight-faced lamentation of the importance of material property to individuals which the masses can never properly understand or was it a satire of those same values? I couldn’t say, although I sympathize with the latter and felt the film’s tone tended toward the former. Perhaps it was simply an investigation of the ambivalences and incongruities between private and public ownership, valuation and pricing, familial ties to possessions and to each other, and any number of other ideas – but the presentation’s sentimentalism seemed totally bizarre to me (although, at the same time, I face these sorts of bizarre ambivalences myself even when I feel that I should know better). Whatever the case, if one were to approach The Father of My Children as a parody of youthful ignorance of the value of material possessions I cannot think of a less successful example in all of the films I have viewed. Comparing the absolute ruin wrought from an inordinate focus on financial troubles to the compassionate unity of a family faced with the loss of one of its pillars doesn’t bode well for the value of the 'material', in my mind. Transposing the perspective gained from The Father of My Children onto Summer Hours simply shows how wasteful the latter film’s depicted family is in terms of both effort and time wasted on those things which fail to bring them together, serve to divide them, and are simply laughed at once lost. This is the beauty of the anti-black comedy – that it renders so many ambivalences trivial in the face of simple truths, especially when those ambivalences are treated as anything but trivial.