Paul, a prize-winning war journalist, returns to his remote New Zealand hometown due to the death of his father, battle-scarred and world-weary. For the discontented sixteen-year-old Celia he opens up a world she has only dreamed of. She actively pursues a friendship with him, fascinated by his cynicism and experience of the world beyond her small-town existence. But many, including the members of both their families, frown upon the friendship and when Celia goes missing, Paul becomes the increasingly loathed and persecuted prime suspect in her disappearance. As the violent and urgent truth gradually emerges, Paul is forced to confront the family tragedy and betrayal that he ran from as a youth, and to face the grievous consequences of silence and secrecy that has surrounded his entire adult life. Written by
A compelling story, half melodrama, half thriller, set in a quiet and fairly isolated region of New Zealand.
Two brothers meet up after a long separation and dark secrets from the past slowly unravel on a collision course with present day reality. Paul is a Pulitzer nominated war photographer who left home still quite young and is now deeply resented by sibling Andrew. Their father has died and split the Will three ways. There is further tension from Paul's ex-girlfriend Jackie, and a mysterious 16yr old, Celia. A concatenation of events draws Paul into knots of suspicion and trust, which the film juxtaposes with increasingly frequent flashbacks explaining shadowy glimpses of shame beneath façades of uprightness.
The beauty that first struck me about In My Father's Den was how it brought back to me the quietude of New Zealand, the untainted landscape where you can almost hear your own thoughts - and also the Kiwi ability to express much (for good or bad) without saying much. Having sat through a mainstream film immediately before this one, I had to do a 'gear shift' to concentrate enough to follow what was happening. This has it's own reward, and one of the reasons why art house movies have such impact the *active* attention and listening that is required (as opposed to the spoon-fed nature of Hollywood movies) means a greater investment of one's own energy, and the result, when worthwhile, becomes internalised to a greater degree. Perhaps there should be a word such as 'internalism' to mean the opposite of 'escapism', for that is what we also do when we make the effort to understand, to achieve an active empathy, and so find qualities in a film that resonate more deeply with us than can entertainment alone.
What I found rather sad is what has happened to the film even with the present day's more relaxed attitude to censorship. The British Board of Film Censors website entry on this movie reports: "The distributor chose to remove a scene which showed consensual asphyxiation in a sexual context in order to achieve a '15'. An uncut '18' was available to the distributor." So UK law and our film censors would allow adults to see an uncut a work of artistic merit (one that was part financed by UK Lottery money) but UK financial interests (distributors with an eye to maximising ticket sales) will not.
In My Father's Den is not without faults the intercut flashbacks towards the end come with such alarming rapidity that it is almost confusing, and some of the characterisation (like a 16yr old girl who writes world class poetry), however moving, can seem far-fetched. But overall the flaws are worth overlooking to enjoy the painting.
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