Go hire “In my Father’s Den” – now out on DVD

The New Zealand film “In my father’s den” has been available on DVD for a few months now. I first saw this film in the cinema and saw it without any expectations other than some good reviews. I thought it was a magnificent movie, one of the best I’ve ever seen and raved about it in similar terms on in a comments thread on Troppo.

I watched it on DVD a few nights ago some of its lustre faded for me. I guess these things are so mercurial that its not so surprising. To explain, the real centre of the plot is the relationship between Paul a man in mid career, say late 30s to early 40s and Celia, a girl of 16. Celia is the baby born to Paul’s ex-girlfriend 8 and a half months after he left provincial New Zealand to travel the world.

If you watch the film you eventually find out whether their own suspicions about whether they are father and daughter are confirmed. When I watched it in the cinema, I found the presentation of this dilemma really one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen in drama. The two people had a powerful relationship in any event but they knew not quite what it was. A bit like a hypercharged version of real life really.

Seeing it last night I was less gripped by this than I was the first time around but then the first time around was really something. When I first saw it, I regarded the d©nouement of the plot as a minor flaw five minutes of melodrama. Last night I was struck by the fact that I had completely wiped from my memory the plot version of what had happened to Celia. My memories were conditioned by the power of the presentation of her relationship with Paul and by the final scene in the movie which is a flashback to an earlier time.

And watching a DVD (with someone) is quite different to being in a cinema (in this case on my own). I was much less gripped by the relationship this time. One could even form the view that the film was just a quite well done melodrama with some exceptional acting. But I still heartily recommend the film. Indeed, I’d put it pretty close to a ‘must see’. Casablanca would have been an ordinary film without Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. With them its an unforgettable classic. See the DVD for the actress who plays Celia’s na¯ve but yet courageous opening up to life’s possibilities. Her portrayal is matter of fact, without a hint of sentimentality and at the same time very powerful. Go get the DVD and watch it for her alone.

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2024 years ago

Nicholas, I didn’t see it at the cinema but following your ‘raving’ about it in Troppo comments, I went and got the DVD out the other week and watched it with my family. We all loved it, thought it an excellent example of its kind–the psycholgical thriller–very well-observed, coherent story that hangs together very well. As well as the great performance from Celia–I loved Paul, played by Matthew Mc Fayden, who’s got the lead role in Spooks, btw–a great actor for that role, haunted, elusive, anger simmering away. Very good performances from the rest of the cast too.
It’s also a real film–one you can watch without shame, unlike say many Aussie films. Good dialogue, some humour but not of the lame sort, sharply-sketched portrait of smalltown life. Sure it has a hint of melodrama but I think that’s fine within the conventions of the genre. An eminently watchable film, beautifully and economically shot. And the film-makers had the good sense to base it on a novel–by the wonderful NZ writer Maurice Gee. I think another of his novels of grief, love, misuunderstanding, fear and death, which would be great to film, is The Fat Man.

2024 years ago

The “second viewing” effect can be total disillusionment or heightened awareness of nuances in the movie. I wonder how much the effect in this case was a function of the context of viewing or knowing the plot in advance. Watching alone in a cinema one is prety well trapped and completely submerged in the experience. At home with the DVD and friends one is inevitably distracted by comments, cups of tea and the like so the impact of the drama is diluted or even radically subverted.