Film About a Father Who

Film About a Father Who ★★★½

Cinema Guild Virtual Cinema.

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.