Slamdance Review – Film About a Father Who: A Complicated Legacy
Pop Culture Reviews
January 25 2020
Director: Lynne Sachs
Editor: Rebecca Shapass
Composer: Stephen Vitiello
Film About a Father Who is visionary filmmaker Lynne Sachs’ method of processing her father’s complicated legacy. The opening of the film — a comb pulled gently through the mass of Ira Sachs’ hair by disembodied fingers — subtly states its purpose and challenge.
Sachs tells her father as he protests her ministrations — unravelling knots, unweaving the complex — this is the goal of Film About a Father Who, and audiences will be split as to the success of this project. Sachs begins with grainy home video footage that serves a literal and analogical purpose. The first purpose is to literally showcase her earlier experiences with her father, and the second, to replicate the hazy nostalgia of childhood. Within minutes, the outline of the tangle of Ira Sachs begins to emerge: fast moving and witty, reticent and loquacious by turns, quintessential capitalist with defiant hippie pretensions — driven by money but not quite given over to it. Sachs approaches her subject with a patient curiosity, weaving different characters into the story with aplomb.
A signature flourish of Film About a Father Who is the film’s clear-eyed but sympathetic look at perhaps the biggest influence on Ira Sachs’ life: his mother. Lynn Sachs takes great pains to show us that the specter of his mother looms over every portion of her father’s life. Ira’s mother serves as kind of an example of the expectations and failures that make Ira such an enigma to his offspring. Although themes of failure, dishonesty, avarice, crave-ness and selfishness make up the core of this story, Sachs never loses sight of the humanity of her subject. Even when full bore denunciation is seemingly obligated by the oft infuriating narrative, Sachs retains an emotional reserve. In this sense, Sachs imitates her subject — this reserve serves Sachs well, as the cast of characters continually expands, with ex-wives and girlfriends, secret siblings, and family members all making appearances.
Quotes from the assembled characters could easily read like witness statements in the indictment of a protagonist’s character, but for the most part, Sachs situates them so firmly within the narrative of Ira Sachs that she takes the sting out of their revelations. In one particular interview Sachs veers uncomfortably close to emotional manipulation but with good reason. Overall, Sachs’ artistic distance from her subject allows her to present the most incendiary moments in an almost matter of fact way, enabling the viewer to make an emotional connection based off the information alone.
The music, orchestrated by Stephen Vitiello is note perfect. Whimsical when necessary, ominous at times, and occasionally inquisitive — the music always adds and never detracts. Sachs also invests this movie with several subtexts worth mentioning: how the sexual revolution unequally empowered men and women, and how ‘lads’ culture defenestrates boys — while never losing sight of her main objective. In certain moments Sachs allows us to see the whirring gears of the documentary, taking us behind the curtain. This self-conscious artificiality adds to the artistic pretensions of the movie and establishes Film About a Father Who as a documentary of both style and substance. Lynne Sachs approaches this documentary with the mentality of an artist, and the attentiveness of a daughter — the result is a searing look at the depravity of toxic masculinity, the destructiveness of secrets and the resiliency of the human spirit.