“An intensely personal documentary in the mode of ‘Must Read After My Death’ and ‘Stories We Tell’ — the hook here being that director Lynne Sachs has evidently been making this film for decades. That fact proves to be the secret sauce that most distinguishes ‘Film About a Father Who’ from other self-reflexive docs about a filmmaker’s own family. ‘FAAFW’ is assembled from snatches of time, way-stations on a lifelong journey to unravel a mystery in the form of a person. It’s not a straight line from nagging questions to satisfying answers, but a swirling impression of what it’s like to live in the shadow of those questions. As Garrett Bradley’s ‘Time’ demonstrated so beautifully last year, scrambling chronology can be more than a structural choice — it can reflect and enhance the feature’s themes, as it does here.
Time keeps slipping back and forth in ‘FAAFW’, which can be (perhaps glibly) described as Sachs’ attempt to vivisect her father Ira Sachs Sr.’s complicated story. Particularly his habit of settling down briefly with a woman, having a child or two, and then moving on to a new wife or girlfriend (or two). Some of these children had no inkling that the others even existed. (“Fucker’s settin’ up franchises,” Brad-Pitt-as-Tyler-Durden once snarked.)
In the end, Sachs doesn’t stumble onto any grand, penetrating conclusions about her family, her father, or about why exactly Ira Sr. has elected to live the life he has. The film’s most salient psychological observations about the elder Sachs seem to emerge organically from the director’s interviews and roundtables with her numerous half-siblings. There’s no summary statement at the end, just questions about the meaning of love and family, and about whether it’s ever possible to understand another human being — even our own parents.
Which is for the best, really. Indeed, one of the most appealing things about ‘FAAFW’ is its refusal to offer easy answers. There’s a definite sensation that the film is — and will always remain — unfinished, which feels like a bold statement in and of itself. Sachs could (and may) continue to unearth old footage and record new footage, but she might not get any closer to understanding her father. As much as anything else, she seems to have made this film to document her viewpoint and that of her extended family, to catalog the ever-expanding ripples initiated by her father’s often questionable choices. The only constant is that there seems to be no end to the revelations.
The feature’s strong sense of stasis despite the march of time is what evoked Bradley’s film for me, and it manifests in the way ‘FFAFW’ flits across thousands of miles and decades of time. While the film roughly follows the chronological birth order of Ira Sr.’s many children, it also skips around a lot, drawing from a wealth of 8mm, 16mm, video, and digital footage. It’s the 90s. No, it’s the 00s. No, it’s the 10s. There are three siblings, then five, then seven. It is then and it is now and Dad is Dad, graying and slowing but somehow unchanged and still unknowable. Perhaps, ‘FAAFW’ ponders, we are all mysteries to one another.”
– Andrew Wyatt
Film About a Father Who, Lynne Sachs’ family self-portrait, opens with a shot of the documentarian brushing her father’s hair. Her gentle combing is then disrupted by a knot that won’t detangle. Sachs fights it, nervously laughing as she does, but refusing to give up. It’s a scene so personal, the act of grooming your own parent, but Sachs makes the audience aware that even in tenderness there is pain.
More from my Austin Chronicle review here. –
“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.”
– Nicholas Yap
A daughter explores her feelings about, the biographical landmarks and the explosion of family begotten by her father in Film About a Father Who, a free-flowing documentary whose title might lack the literal ellipsis that is nevertheless implied. For here is director Lynne Sachs, a veteran experimental filmmaker, reflecting upon exactly who her father, Ira Sachs Sr., is, and, more importantly, how she came to understand the who, when and why of his legacy. This is remarkably candid about a man who is, in many ways, anything but candid.
See my full review at Spectrum Culture.
– Joel Copling
“I’m happy to feel an affinity for Lynne Sachs and I would like to say for now she is my favourite filmmaker. film about a father who was an exquisite hodgepodge about an elusive father and an even more elusive maw maw, told by the 7 children and former partners of ira (this was my granddads name too) very intimate storytelling, and ugh the scenes shot on film in the meadows, with maw maw in repose staring into light, the shots of children like held against their will by sachs in front of the camera, i really enjoyed and it was visually a beautiful viewing experience. i loved that at every stage of mature life sachs was there with a camera carving out this picture for audiences of complete strangers who could be equally intrigued by her father as she is, and the embarssment and awkwardness that comes from the outside inqiuiry into this man, and then the children who had to live with the repercussions of their dad’s lifestyle. loved a lot”
Watched in my Documentary Traditions II class at NYU. Sachs was in attendance and gave a Q&A after the screening.
An excerpt from an essay I wrote comparing the film to The Grand Bizarre:
“[T]he footage in Film About A Father Who is often of a kind we’re used to seeing in documentaries – archival home videos, interviews, ect. What’s unconventional is the achronological way in which the footage is stitched together. […] Sachs’s sound design […] is absolutely vital to her film’s success. It frames the entire project almost as a memory or a dream – getting at the nostalgia inherent in Sach’s central premise. This nostalgic quality cuts some of the darker emotional stretches of the film and keeps them from overwhelming everything else.
In class, Sachs described the structure of her film as ambiguity followed by clarity. If this was the intention, the film’s ending fails to achieve it. The clarity Sachs describes simply never arrives. Her film is an incredibly thoughtful and stimulating one, but I can’t honestly say that I left it with a greater understanding of who her father is […] Intent aside, an argument could certainly be made that the film is stronger this way, provoking the audience to think without supplying an answer. The problem, however, is that this lack of resolution doesn’t feel graceful in context. The film simply ends.”
– Burt Reynolds
Director Lynne Sachs’ documentary “Film About a Father Who” poses an intriguing question about fathers and their children — and whether the child can ever truly know what is going on in their parent’s head.
Sachs tries to make sense of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., through footage accumulated for 35 years, from home movies in 1984 to interviews taken from the ‘90s to now. The footage spans all formats, from 8mm and 16mm film to VHS, Hi-8 and digital. The different formats serve as historical markers, and also showing how intimate the moments become, with the older film more formal and the tape and digital cameras becoming less obtrusive and more ubiquitous, to the point where people act like they’re not there.
Read the full review at The Movie Cricket: moviecricket.net/sundance-2020/2020/1/24/slamdance-review-a-daughter-tries-to-figure-out-her-father-in-thoughtful-enigmatic-film-about-a-father-who
– Sean P. Means
– Jared Mobarak