In My Father's Den

In My Father's Den


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the beginning you think you know where Brad McGann is going with this - prodigal son returns for funeral of father, stirring up family animosity and shedding light on dark secrets - but slowly, as the cliches fall away and the stereotypes metamorphose into real people, you find yourself enmeshed in a deeply dysfunctional, emotionally charged, multi-layered mystery that redefines the meaning of inappropriate behaviour.

New Zealand has a history of dark, disturbing, sexually ambivalent independent films that push convention off the cliff. In My Father's Den is more subtle than simply raising two fingers to the romantic desires of feelgood junkies. It is a journey through memory and time, while embarking on a road to discovery with a thirtysomething photojournalist and a 16-year-old girl who wants to be a writer.

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Yet even this is not what it seems. The man's name is Paul (Matthew MacFadyen). He's a war photographer of international renown, who has a problem with closeness and commitment. As his brother Andrew (Colin Moy) likes to remind him, he avoids confrontation, hides behind a camera, or a show of indifference. "This is how you push people away," the girl accuses.

Her name is Celia (Emily Barclay). Her infatuation with Paul is one of admiration - he left the narrow confines of the island and built a reputation for himself in the most dangerous places in the world, even refused the nomination for a Pulitzer Prize - and curiosity. She dreams of Europe and escape ("I'd rather be a no one somewhere than a someone nowhere"). Their relationship, if that is what it is, balances on the brink of social acceptance, already damned by the community, when suddenly, for no apparent reason, Celia disappears.

There are other, deeper fears lurking in the undergrowth of this family's psyche. Celia's mother was Paul's great love before he left - is Celia his child? he wonders. Andrew's wife (Miranda Otto) resembles the mother who killed herself to such an extent that it may explain his inability to make love to her. What happened in their father's den that caused such psychological damage?

Although flirting with melodrama, writer/director McGann remains wedded to the truth, brilliantly sliding in and out of flashback so that time becomes a tool in the craft of the storyteller. MacFadyen has the looks of a charmer, but Paul stays defensive and hard. Barclay is not soft, either. You can see the intelligence in her eyes, as well as a questing need. Neither actor plays up to the camera.

McGann's honesty brushes off on the entire production, even using that orphan of passion, Patti Smith, as his soundtrack diva.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2005
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In My Father's Den packshot
An inappropriate friendship and the unearthing of family secrets becomes a terrible mystery.
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Director: Brad McGann

Writer: Brad McGann, based on the novel by Maurice Gee

Starring: Matthew MacFadyen, Emily Barclay, Colin Moy, Miranda Otto, Jimmy Keen, Jodie Rimmer, Toby Alexander, Nicholas Hayward

Year: 2004

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: New Zealand/UK


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