Film Scratches is a blog by David Finkelstein focusing on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
July 5, 2020
Posted by Matthew Sorrento
Serial Seduction: Film About a Father Who (2020)
by David Finkelstein
Film About a Father Who is Lynne Sachs’ absorbing feature length film about her unconventional father. She worked on the film for almost 30 years, shooting on a variety of analog and digital formats. The film begins with Lynne Sachs laboriously combing and disentangling her elderly father Ira’s long gray hair, an occasionally painful process, and the film is likewise an extensive process of trying to disentangle the many confused and hidden strands of her father’s complex relationships, hidden lives, and bewildering behavior. The examination is painful at times as well.
The film plays out as a detective story, as Lynne uncovers layer after layer of information about her father’s many contradictions and secrets. A free spirit and compulsive womanizer who spent most of his adult life picking up as many young women as he could, he pursued so many women at once that he had to keep elaborate lists and diagrams to keep track of them. Lynne admits that there are so many girls that she doesn’t even learn most of their names. Ira Sachs was adept at closing his eyes to the havoc he created in the lives of his various wives, girlfriends and children, and expert at keeping parts of his life hidden.
An extremely willful, volatile person, Ira acts on every passing desire and impulse he feels, heedless of the consequences. By contrast, Lynne’s mother and the other young women in his life seem so passive and fatalistic it is as if they don’t even know what it is like to identify one of their own needs or desires, let alone to act on it. Her mother says she didn’t make major decisions in her life, things “just happened.” She describes herself, in retrospect, as “purposefully blind” to Ira’s infidelities.
Ira’s instinct is to be courtly and attentive to all women: wives, girlfriends, daughters, his mother. They are each treated like queen for a day. Ira is seen dancing with his mother to Autumn Leaves, and her face lights up with a smile. (Perhaps this is why Lynne’s brother Ira Jr. comes across as having a more clear-eyed, less conflicted view of his dad: Ira Sr. doesn’t typically turn the charm on for men.)
A scene where Lynne discusses her parents with her brother and sister reveals that the three siblings act like close, trusting family allies. All three identify as artists: Ira Jr. is a filmmaker and Dana is a writer, and not only are they comfortable analyzing their family dynamics, they all relish it. Their father might refuse to see the uncomfortable truth of the people he has hurt, and their mother might close her eyes to her husbands philandering, but these three offspring do not believe in living an unexamined life. They have each made careers out of what amounts to a survival technique in the Sachs household: shining a light on the murky darkness.
Lynne Sachs builds her story with the consummate skill which viewers have come to expect from her films: seamlessly weaving together diverse fragments of sound and picture so that they tell a complicated and ambiguous story in a way that constantly draws you in. She circles around her elusive subject, viewing him from multiple angles, but always moving in towards the center of the story. The film’s nonlinear form, intercutting between time periods, pointedly calls attention to the disconnect between Ira’s perceptions and the real consequences of his choices.
The revelations pile up, and some of them are devastatingly ugly. Yet as Lynne brings the different branches of her family together for the film, it is clear that their frank discussions provide them with a powerful source of trust and healing. The film’s title, a reference to a Yvonne Rainer film, perfectly sums up a man so full of contradictions that he is impossible to sum up. The film wisely refrains from providing judgements or pat conclusions about Ira, and it ends with Lynne and her sister realizing that forgiveness is the only possible attitude to take towards this dynamic, creative father who offered inspiration and dismay in equal measure. When you dig deep enough into family histories, they can seem like an unending chain of cruelties suffered and inflicted in turn, but Lynne Sachs’ spirit of intelligent compassion lights up the film, giving voice to the anger and pain, but also providing the space and distance needed to recover from it. It’s a spectacular gift to the viewer, and one that will provide insight even to those with more conventional parents.