His & Hers

His & Hers


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

After garnering a raft of international awards for his documentary shorts Undressing My Mother (2004), Bongo Bong (2006), Farewell Packets Of Ten (2007) and The Herd (2008), Ken Wardrop's debut feature His & Hers has already earned itself the 2009 Screen Directors Guild of Ireland’s (SDGI) Directors Finders Series award, and could well go on to win many more prizes around the world.

The text of the 'old Irish proverb' that opens Wardrop's film – "A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest" – might suggest a very male perspective on the female of the species, but in fact His & Hers turns this idea neatly on its head. For the only 'male perspective' here is Wardrop's immobile camera, capturing 70 differently women in their respective homes in the midlands of Ireland.

Their 'interviews' (with all Wardrop's questions carefully effaced in the editing room) have been arranged by age, so that the film begins with an infant girl in nappies (whose crying is her only vocal contribution) and ends with an elderly lady sitting in silence in a retirement home – but the rest of the subjects are generous and open in discussing the most important men in their lives, be they fathers, boyfriends, husbands or sons. Yet, while men may be the film's exclusive verbal theme, women remain its only visual subject, and it is only in the very final shot that we catch our first, brief glimpse of a man, wandering through the background as intrusively – and inevitably – as death itself.

This formally imposed gender divide and cradle-to-grave ordering of materials do not in fact represent the only unwritten 'obstructions' to which Wardrop has chosen to restrict himself. For while his subjects can be disarmingly frank and often archly disparaging about their menfolk, conspicuous by their absence are any accounts of abuse, divorce or even everyday petty bitterness, with only the elderly widows at the end approaching a down note as they express their sense of grief, loss and loneliness. What is more, the location is not just midlands, but middle Ireland, with the class of the participants occupying decidedly bourgeois ground.

Such a narrow focus, however, is precisely what lends the material its (apparent) simplicity and purity, yielding concentrated insights (without any complicating distractions) into sex, family, the shifts in generations and the continuities of life. It is funny, to be sure, and at times moving, too - and it somehow manages to be all the more profound for its cosy domestic banality.

Wardrop's beautifully composed, yet rigidly fixed framing brings a surreal stillness to his subjects in their interior spaces, as though we were flipping through a photo album rather than watching a film – an impression only enhanced by the film's strict chronological structure. Denis Clohessy's fey score for piano and strings brings just the right note of sprightliness to offset (without erasing) the mood of elegiac melancholy that begins to dominate the last third of the film – but that in no way lessens the haunting impact of the film's final image, where a woman is at last seen 'with' a man, and yet at the same time utterly alone.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2009
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Seventy women talk about the men in their lives.
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Director: Ken Wardrop

Starring: 70 women

Year: 2009

Runtime: 80 minutes

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