It is somehow surprising to see how, across the various competition sections at the Cannes Festival, there were many works that, although considerably different, shared a similar theme: the portrayal of fathers searching for lost children.
The most disturbing and touching was Keane by American director Lodge Kerrigan in the Quinzaine competition. This is the story of a father who goes insane after losing his daughter in the middle of New York; six months pass and still he can’t resign himself to her disappearance. It’s as if the city has swallowed his child, forever lost in non-space. Nothing seems to be of any use, neither desperate searches nor going all the way back down the same road, or using a different child – entrusted to him by a woman who does not suspect his plans – to try and discover where missing children go. But this time the girl will not disappear like his daughter. He will never forgive himself for that one moment’s inattention,
A similar story is Alice by the Portuguese director Marco Martins also running for the Quinzaine prize. Here, too, a father is searching for his daughter who has mysteriously disappeared. So as not to sink like his wife into a state of paralysing distress, he becomes restless. He decides to place a number of cameras along a road that he presumes his daughter will walk along sooner or later. He carefully examines every frame at his disposal, enlarging some details and printing out images that he thinks could lead him to his daughter. Until one day he happens to see a child who reminds him very much of his own. He follows her shaking with hope and terror. When he realises it is not her, he decides to stop his painful search. Scattered images of Lisbon streets raise great expectations as well as misleading hopes. The film subtly plays with the idea of wanting to see behind the images, with the desire of reading an imaginary truth that those images could carry.
The search of Don (brilliantly played by Bill Murray) in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers is a much lighter and less tormented one. After having discovered from an letter that he has a son, Don sets out on a journey to look for him. This is the journey of a bored middle-aged man who is not even persuaded that he is doing the right thing, but, spurred on by a pestering neighbour/detective, he tries to trace his supposed-son’s mother, among the women he used to date 20 years before. This amusing voyage is the key for Don to discover not only how things and people have changed but also to realise his own desire for fatherhood, even though his investigation will eventually fail to provide certainties for him.
The main character of Wim Wenders’ Don’t Come Knocking is a veteran actor of Westerns who – disgusted with himself and with everybody surrounding him – sets out on a journey to Montana searching for his son whose existence he has just recently discovered. He also finds out that he has a daughter, and while, at first, the boy is not willing to know his father better, the girl is far more interested in discovering the truth about her bizarre parent.
The Italian Quando sei nato non puoi più nasconderti (Once You’re Born) by Marco Tullio Giordana tells the odyssey of a father who loses his son while sailing, but despite its dramatic development, the story culminates in a positive ending for the characters involved, who seem to acquire a better understanding of those who are forced to leave their parents by necessity.
The Dardenne brothers’ L’enfant (The Child) this year’s Palme d’or winner, is definitely worth a mention. Their trademark style combines realism and fiction thus giving birth to an intensely emotional film about a young man who lives his life from day to day, stealing, then selling what he finds. The boy becomes a father without fully realising the meaning of it, unlike the baby’s mother who is naturally very close to her new born child.
So just like one of the many objects he accidentally finds in the streets, he sells his son and his reaction is almost one of surprise when, after he tells the baby’s mother, she is devastated. The young man’s attempts to get his baby back subtly lead him to develop an imperceptible bond with both his son and his son’s mother and to an unpredictable self-growth.