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.
Ira Sachs Sr., we soon discover, has a complicated relationship with his daughter. She jokes he’s the “Hugh Hefner of Park City,” which is as playful as it is scathing, but there’s a sharp truth to his nickname. Sachs Sr. wasn’t just briefly unfaithful to his wife but has nine children with five different women. His lifestyle made him the black sheep of his family, and left his own mother ashamed and disgusted. She snarls in one interview about how her son has become an incredible disappointment, always on his phone and never present because he’s too busy toggling multiple women.
Sachs’ downward spiral into her father’s personal life has been in the works for roughly 26 years, with footage collected from 1984 to 2019. By using a mixture of 8mm film to pristine digital, her experimental documentary feels worn, an eclectic mixture of home videos that blends in with the film’s familial nature. Moments of Sachs as a child playing with her father are juxtaposed with interviews with the mothers of his children, whose openness with Sachs and the camera is intimate and brutal. Tears choked back, Sachs Sr.’s girlfriends have complex emotions toward their kids’ father, a man who betrayed their trust but who they also genuinely loved.
But Sachs doesn’t want to paint a picture of hate toward her father. This is the man who spent time with her on the self-proclaimed Bob Dylan Day, a man who has given her a large network of siblings to bond with. While family doesn’t mean everything, family is something that is a stable anchor to have when things feel hopeless, and while each child has complex feelings toward their father, it is also because of their father that they have a gigantic support circle who can (mostly) relate.
At one point in the film, Sachs explains that it’s her “reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” Film About a Father Who is not meant to give Sachs answers to her labyrinth of affection toward her father, but rather used to understand the man from whom she seeks so much approval. The film circles back to that opening scene of hair brushing, but the knot is no longer there. She’s finally tackled it and moved past it.
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