Friday, January 15, 2021

Lynne Sachs' FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO breaks new ground in the "family" documentary department

Every year there seem to be a couple (if not more) of new docs that, in telling their strange and troubling stories -- often about a family that the movie-maker is exploring (sometimes his or her own) -- practically cry out, Can you top this?!  2021, which has barely even begun, offers one that pretty much tops them all: FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO

The filmmaker here is Lynne Sachs (shown above), who has spent 35 years -- 1984 through 2019 -- researching, compiling her information and finally turning her film and video into a very compact 74 minutes of footage. That's barely over two minutes per year, yet the result is something for which running-time seems quite beside the point. (Before you start to feel too badly for Ms Sachs, know that she has completed a number of other films over that same time period: Click on her IMDB profile, at the link above). 

All of us, TrustMovies would guess, are at some point in our lives, interested in our parents and their history, however checkered it might be. As Ms Sachs explores this regarding her father Ira Sachs, Sr., shown above and below (her sibling, Jr., is himself a noted filmmaker: Leave the Lights On, Love Is Strange), she learns more and more that becomes so increasingly jaw-dropping that you will eventually have to pick that body part up from the floor. Ms Sachs also explores, to a lesser extent, the history of her mother and grandmother. But it's Dad who's key here. 

To even try to explain what we learn in this film would be to give away the entire store, as it were. Really: once the film gets going, a new spoiler crops up literally every few minutes. Eventually you will find yourself asking, Who the fuck is this man?, and it's clear that his offspring have all asked themselves the same question plenty of times over the years. In terms of film-making technique, Sachs has assembled her footage -- archival to near-present-day, with interviews conducted all along the way -- pretty much in the necessary manner to allow that "mystery of identity" to reveal itself, play out as it needs to, and still, yes, remain something of a mystery. 

According to her IMDB resume, Sachs explores "the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together poetry, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design," and she is "strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice."  In Film About A Father Who, she gets what I would call a little too creative and artsy once or twice, which, in the context of all we see and hear, simply calls attention to itself and not much more. Fortunately she and her editor Rebecca Shapass concentrate mostly on the faces, words and thoughts of the people we meet, and this is more than enough to keep us in tow.

As the movie came to a close (spoiler ahead: See the film before reading the rest of this paragraph), I found myself thinking that Ira Sachs, Sr., is the absolute and perfect poster boy for vasectomy. Though that, of course, would rob us of his progeny -- all of whom seem like decent enough folk. And, to his credit, the man at least monetarily cared for his offspring. I also would have liked to know, since DNA does count for quite a bit of our heritage, much more about the man named Harry Richman (I believe that's the spelling of the fellow who was our titular father's actual father). But perhaps there was simply no further information available on this guy.

In any case, Film About a Father Who takes its place as a whopping good exploration of family, parentage and parenting, secrets and -- if not outright lies, then some pretty heavy withholding of information. From The Cinema Guild and running 74 minutes, the documentary opens in virtual cinemas nationwide today, Friday, January 15. Click here for more information and venues.

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