Film About a Father Who is an intimate, innovative auto-doc about wounded people finding solace in the company of fellow stragglers.
Film About A Father Who is Lynne Sachs’ latest, and evidently most personal, feat of documentation. Patched together from various conversations and intimate moments inked on 16mm film, camcorder tapes, and digital masters — cleverly staggered to disrupt any linear timeline, and, by extension, any discernible narrative sequence — the film traverses the emotional interstices passed down by an absent father who radiates a kindly, domesticated charm in our first glimpses at him. This towheaded wayfarer is Ira Sachs Sr., a self-styled refusenik liable to one-time flings that conveniently fall within his orbit — affable though he may be, but waning in physique. This impression of the man — when contrasted with preceding home movie clippings, depicting scenes of play and hiking vignettes, tinselled in noise and unnaturally variegated — seems to complicate an expected narrative of old-age sentimentalism.
Ira Sachs Sr., we soon learn, is the center of a criss-crossing matrix of ill will and soured affections, the painful afterlives of his philandering excursions that persist to this day. The torment suffered by Ira’s former partners, as in the case of his second wife Diana and the children he fathered, is on full display as each party takes center-stage to voice the burdens foisted upon them as a result of both his romantic and familial derelictions of duty. During these soul-baring interactions, occasional lapses in the clarity of the recording (and overdubbing), along with stretched-out J-cuts, serve to deny us the affective impact of a more continuous, metered equilibrium. The effect of these techniques is made uncanny in an early sequence with Lynne’s mother, Diane, where the audio momentarily peters out as she relates an important transition in the relationship, and elsewhere, such as in a scene with Rose (affectionately nicknamed Maw-Maw) that connects the comingled love and disdain of her bond with Ira to the sequence’s separation of speech and thought.
The film’s title takes direct inspiration from sterling fellow filmmaker, choreographer, and theorist Yvonne Rainer’s sophomore feature Film About A Woman Who…, but tellingly drops the ellipsis. Per Lynne’s assertion that her father had “his own syntax, his own set of rules,” the film offers an enticing vantage point from which to take in the teeming life of another, before suggesting that any resultant observations cannot perfectly capture the complexity and unknowability of even the most flawed among us. As a rudimentary support circle is formed within Lynne’s expanding family unit, and contextual light is shed upon experiences previously assumed to be singular, Ira recedes into the background. The film refuses moral pronouncement and takes shape as an act of witness to disparate individuals working through unresolved bogies in real-time — strained even further by the abrupt introduction of two relatives unknown to the rest for decades. There are inevitable difficulties faced by the family members identifying with, and caring for, blood relations they know only through a traumatic history of neglect — as Lynne herself muses at one point, “How can you look for something you don’t even know is lost?” This makes for a shaky incompleteness that dogs the closing moments, an aleatoric cinema of sorts open to inopportune discoveries and inconvenient questions bubbling up long after its composition, complemented wonderfully by Lynne’s filmmaking background. Her experimental influences (there’s even a flicker-film insert near the end!) aid the sculpting of a collage film that parlays the misshapen specificities of its different media into an impressionistic flow of images, at once dissonant and eerily familiar. It is a work ever in progress, moving to the clip of life’s uncertainties and conveying well the difficulties of gingerly re-establishing one’s bearings while reckoning with a loved one’s severe failings, and the degree to which all can be forgiven. Film About A Father Who lurches forwards slowly but surely, a study of those who wander, wounded and lost, finding solace in the company of other stragglers.