Review: Nine children with six women? ‘Film About a Father Who’ untangles director’s family tree
By ROBERT ABELE
JAN. 15, 20218:45 AM
In the opening moments of Lynne Sachs’ personal documentary “Film About a Father Who,” we see the filmmaker carefully detangling her octogenarian dad Ira’s unruly, hippie-holdover locks. It’s a quiet slice of caretaking intimacy, but it also doubles as prologue to the knotty family journey to follow, which in no small part involves Sachs making sense of a free-spirited parent’s complicated legacy.
Ira Sachs Sr. was no ordinary father. Marked by wide-ranging business ventures, grand gestures and righteous causes, his peripatetic life was driven by the joy in whims. But it also created nine children over 30 years with six different women, where various kids were often unaware for long stretches about others’ existences.
Sachs, the oldest sibling, has been filming her bon vivant dad for decades. (The Museum of the Moving Image is currently hosting a virtual retrospective of her work, and her younger brother Ira Jr. is also a director.) Of course, if you were an experimental documentarian driven to explore the interplay of experience, communication and history, and your bohemian father was at the center of an especially sticky web, wouldn’t you, too, readily hit “record” at get-togethers? Keeping up with Ira Sr. meant there was always a moneymaking scheme, always a girlfriend or wife, always a laugh, and possibly a secret child. What there weren’t necessarily were forthcoming answers when any family member pried too much.
The result is a sharply assembled multiformat collage of memory and investigation that starts like a trip any of us might make into a what-made-him-tick past, but ends in the present with scattered feelings and tenuous bonds. In voiceover, she tells us at one point, “This is my reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” The more she learns about her dad, the more she struggles with the emotional debris of it all, and the mysteries of familial love.
In corralling stories about her father from exes and her extended brothers and sisters (she poignantly leaves off the descriptor “half”), then positioning them amidst archival footage and up-to-the-minute scenes, Sachs achieves a poetic resignation about unknowability inside families, and the hidden roots never explained from looking at a family tree.