His & Hers

Ken Wardrop’s first feature length documentary His & Hers opens with an Irish proverb: “A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.” While this cute aphorism might suggest that the subsequent film will focus on the loving men, the director turns the line on its head and concentrates on the women of his native midlands region and their life-long relationships with the men in their lives. Portarlington-born Wardrop, whose talent as a filmmaker has been obvious since the first short films he made with his producing partner Andrew Freedman, comes to cinematic maturity with this work, as vibrant and life-affirming a film as we are likely to see all year.

The film is deceptively easy to summarise. 70 women, from babes-in-arms to elderly grandmothers, discuss the men in their lives; fathers, boyfriends, husbands, sons and grandsons. Opening with a silent shot of an infant being laid on a blanket, and proceeding sequentially in ascending order of age, the women sit in front of Wardrop’s immobile camera and talk, openly and honestly, about their experiences with the opposite sex. The women remain anonymous and unnamed and the stories they tell are stripped of context, other than what emerges in conversation. But even as they share social and geographical backgrounds, these women are discrete and individual. They might all be talking about the same thing, but the glory in the film is the infinite variety in the way in which the stories are related.

They are sometimes exasperated, sometimes funny and sometimes sweet. As the film progresses and the women grow older, a note of poignancy creeps in, enhanced by the sensitive photography from Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough and Wardrop’s measured editing, which allows each vignette flow seamlessly into the next without ever being distractingly random. The images are beautifully underlined by an unobtrusive, melodic score from composer Denis Clohessy. The stories are connected by the form the film takes, entering the room through doors or staircases, sat on couches or easy chairs, the few exterior shots framed by views from kitchen windows.

His & Hers is not a discussion, or at least not formally. There is no interviewer apparent on the other side of the camera, so there is no further exploration. The film is what it is, a statement, a collection of memories and moments, dreams and desires. Wardrop makes a feature of the restrictiveness of his central conceit, opening up a world of honest emotion from what, in another’s hands, might be nothing more than a series of fireside homilies.

We hear about first loves and marriages, the births of children and the trials of raising noisy, messy sons. There are monologues about the intimacies of marriage, sharing hot water bottles, watching television, domestic routines and quotidian details. The key to happiness, one woman tells us, is separate laundry. There is pride, contentment and, at times, sad regret. The most touching moment arrives with a woman telling the story of how her husband passed away in her arms after a slow dance at a relative’s wedding. You’d need a heart of stone not to be moved by it.

Anyone who spends time in the picture house will grow fat and listless on a diet of ersatz emotion. When we are confronted with the real thing, it can be overwhelming but it is invigorating too. This is a special, beguiling film; human and sensitive, delicate and kind. You will walk from the cinema with a smile on your face, and call your mother.

No comments: