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.