A Film About A Father Who is a documentary that slowly untangles the grand web of secrets of the family, unveiling the mystery of its story through a kaleidoscope lens of points of view. Directed by Lynne Sachs, this film is about the love life of her father, Ira Sachs Sr., and the resulting complications in the lives of his lovers and children. Taking the audience down a progressively darker path of secrets, this film unleashes a detailed and multifaceted history to the viewer through simple moments of reflection and powerful shots of people’s raw truth.
The intentional layout of this film allows the viewer to access increasingly adverse secrets about Ira as it progresses, heavily contrasting the fun-loving man the audience is initially introduced to with the final depiction of the man. This juxtaposition was at first offsetting, as the tone at the start is loving towards Ira, while the end showcases all of the hurt relationships Ira leaves in his wake. However, this closing quote by the filmmaker explains these discontinuities of emotions, saying, “This is not a portrait. This is not a self-portrait. This is my reckoning with the conundrum of our asymmetry.” Asymmetry is quite the word choice for the concluding emotion provoked by this film. From the variety of perspectives, one is never given a universal opinion of Ira shared by any of his relations. However, that comes as no surprise because of the variety of family members Ira had amassed throughout his unusual life.
The interviewees’ view Ira from a range of perspectives, seeing him as an exciting and adoring father to someone who was barely ever there at all. The filmmaker herself continually attempts to take a neutral if not forgiving tone as she has many happy memories with Ira. But as other voices are heard, such as the then 19-year-old Diana who Ira brought to the U.S. and started another family, the happy-go-lucky tone of the film is drowned out by the hard realities.
Ira’s complex family dynamics stemmed from the secret family he created. After divorcing the filmmaker's mother—Ira’s first wife Diane—due to an affair he had, Ira takes Diana to be his new companion and has several children with her. Although the film’s title refers to Diana as Ira’s second wife, Ira himself says he was only married one time, to Diane. Ira goes on to have more children with other women, but believes he must keep these children separated from his first family and his mother in order to receive his inheritance. This separation is very damaging to these “hidden” family members and his relationships with them.
A quote from one of the “hidden” daughters, Madison, contains the pain that this unusual family dynamic caused. Through tears she describes a simple dream that was unattainable for her in her youth: “That’s what I’m going to strive for, not a perfect family, but to have a dad and a home.” Clips of her wedding pass by on-screen. The value that has been instilled in this dream was clearly caused by the lack of its fulfillment in her childhood. This moment is just one of many that provide an intimate glimpse into the relationships of this family.
This deep dive into such an interesting family dynamic and the varying perspectives it contains was eye-opening. Having the long-term perspective of 35 years of filming as the filmmaker looks back at her childhood as an adult gave this film a more sophisticated tone. Instead of reacting to Ira’s actions in the moment, the audience is given a variety of different reflections to his behavior seen through the lens of many years. The relationships between Ira and his children are powerful because in spite of the distance he placed between them and himself, they each created their own unique form of love for him. Their mature and varied reflections give the audience powerful food for thought and room to form their own opinion of Ira’s choices. This film contains so many real life details that flesh out what it really feels like to live in a complicated world. I would recommend not only watching this film once, but many times in order to absorb all the intricacies of this richly detailed documentary.
A Film about a Father is available to stream on the Northwest Film Forum website from January 22 to February 21.