Runtime: 74 minutes
Director: Lynne Sachs
Writer: Lynne Sachs
By Joan Amenn
Part of the lineup of documentaries having to do with family histories at Sundance and also shown at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City in an exhibition of her work, Lynne Sachs’ “Film About a Father Who” (2020) is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Like looking through a View Master only to see that the duo of photos are slightly askew, the film always seems to be a little off kilter in portraying its subject, Ira Sachs Sr. What starts as a bemused tolerance by his children devolves into a pained recognition that their father was far more serial in his multiple amorous relationships than they ever imagined. At one point called the “Hugh Hefner of Park City, Utah” there is a feeling of wistfulness in the affection shown to the pater familias Ira, as if all of his children know that his love is ephemeral and needs to be captured while they still have his fleeting attention.
Home movies capturing memories over years give a dreamy quality to what at times seems a detective story. Why were there names crossed off their father’s insurance policy? Who are those people? Lynne’s father is seen always benignly smiling but it seems to be a mask he hides behind as his children discover more and more siblings they never knew existed from his brief encounters with various women over decades. Their grandmother is very vocal in her disapproval of her son’s behavior but is never seen directly confronting him about it in the film. Lynne mentioned in the round table discussion at Sundance following the screening of documentaries that “home movies” are often seen as a way to capture celebrations in life. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, all of these happy memories don’t address what else happens in a lifetime. “Film About a Father Who” shows a man who had many lives with many families who didn’t know they were making memories with someone who was in many ways a stranger to them, with many secrets.
The playfulness of a repeated montage and the charm of the director’s father go a long way in keeping the film from veering into bitterness rather than focusing on the sweetness of family reunions of both known and recently met siblings. However, a little more focus on what having such a chaotic force for a father did to his children and then as adults trying to reconcile their lives with his would have been less frustrating. We are left with words left unsaid and smiles covering anguish over a man who needed to be loved so much but couldn’t completely commit himself to love in return.