Father Figures as Recurring Characters in Cannes' Lineup

in 65th Cannes Film Festival

by Paola Casella

Fatherhood, as both a challenge and a chance to become a better man, has been one of the recurring themes of the 65th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.

Many of the fathers portrayed in the competing films were misguided or ill advised, but well intentioned. One example is the horse rider protagonist of After the Battle (Baad el mawkeaa) by Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah. He tries desperately to support his children in a country where tourism, the main source of income, is declining sharply after the Arab Spring, and because he thinks it will give his family a better chance to survive, he rides his horse against the rebels, even if he belongs to the downtrodden, the revolution is trying to help.

Misguided is also the father in Matteo Garrone’s Reality. This Neapolitan fishmonger decides that the way to fame and success is by entering as a contestant on the reality show his children love so much. But when the show fails to select him, he starts losing all contact with reality, as well as with his role as father.

Kind and thoughtful, but distraught by his wife’s death to the point of becoming oblivious to his daughter’s own suffering is the father in After Lucia (Despues de Lucia) by Mexican director Michel Franco.

The same kind of well-intentioned oblivion causes tragedy in Joachim Lafosse’s Our Children (A perdre la raison) although in this case it affects the children’s mother, who is suffering from fatigue and depression.

Fathers also find in their children the strength and wisdom to go on under difficult circumstances. It is the case of the protagonist of The Hunt (Jagten) by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. A mild mannered teacher wrongly accused of child molestation that discovers his sole ally is his son. The drifter in France’s competition entry Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os), who moves from town to town with his young son supporting both of them with odd jobs and underground boxing matches, will find the courage to grow up and assume responsibility for his life and the life of his loved ones only when his “devil may care” attitude is about to cost him his little boy.

Another drifter, the title character in Jeff Nichols’ Mud, finally becomes a man when he is called upon to protect a child who is not his son, but who looks up to him as a father figure. Mud is actually a coming of age story about, a 14 year-old boy, has to choose his masculine role model, from Mud himself, to the boy’s own dad, both of whom are well-intentioned but somehow ill equipped to take on full parenting responsibilities.

Finally a single man chooses to adopt an orphan in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and by doing so he gives a new, and better, direction to his own life.

At least two father figures seen in Cannes’ films definitely know what they are doing. The aging dad in Michael Haneke’s Love (Amour), who scolds his grownup daughter for shying away from her responsibilities towards her mother, and the dying father in Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, knowing that he will soon have to leave his 6 years old tomboy daughter alone to survive in the wilderness, he teaches her to be fearless and to find within herself the strength to go on without him.

International cinema often gives indications as to where the world is heading, and the Cannes selection seems to suggest that, after a period of disorientation, men are redefining their identity by working on their role as fathers, even if by trial and error, as well as on the model of masculinity they intend to pass on to their children: In that sense, it is no accident that most of the children in the abovementioned movies are boys.