Postcard To Daddy

Postcard To Daddy


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It was once a taboo subject, but now child sexual abuse is the subject of a great many films, and a lot of them seem to be the same. The horror of it all; the detailing of acts which sometimes verges on the salacious; the feelings of confusion, betrayal, alienation; the family breakdown; the damaged teenager; the adult finally looking back from a place of strength, secure in the knowledge that they are a good person who was once hurt by an evil person. It's a familiar journey in real life and exploring it in film provides a recovery narrative that can help a lot of people. Yet it only takes us half the way there. Is it, ultimately, helpful to approach the subject in such stark terms? Can that approach ever truly represent the complexities of real life relationships and emotions? In this brave and very personal film, director Michael Stock does something different.

Stock's film begins with him posting a letter to his father, the man who abused him, whom he has not seen for years. He is hoping his father will get in touch, not simply to confess or apologise, but to play a role in his life. Stock's suffering has not only been about the abuse itself, it has been about the experience of family breakdown and the loss of a parent he still feels he needs. Forgiving his father is difficult but so is living without him. Settling for anger, for the erasure of this man from his thoughts, would deprive him of many happy memories. It would deprive him altogether of a childhood that was only partly about pain.

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This nuanced, insightful documentary is much more successful than most at communicating the complex impact of sexual abuse. Stock wonders how his father has lived with the guilt - it's an interesting question, and also interesting is its absence from other such enquiries. We meet the mother who has quietly triumphed over her own troubled feelings in realising just how unaware she was of what was going on in her home. There's a sister, furiously angry, who has cut off all contact with her father; and a brother who still sees him, who has settled for the fact he can probably never fully reconcile conflicting feelings about him.

These are people getting on with their lives anyway, and the resilience with which they have kept the rest of the family unit together testifies to a domestic joy that deserves to be remembered. Helping us to do so are beautifully shot home movies going right back to Stock's early childhood. It's not clear who filmed these, but it's clear that Stock learned from them; the other film material also exhibits a quality rarely matched in the documentary genre. It reminds us that the director has also done some interesting work in fiction, semi-autobiographical clips of which are used to illustrate other stages in his life.

There's a lot of positive stuff here, but that doesn't make Michael's honest, troubled reminiscences any less difficult. What he seems to be straining to put across is the similarity between the very strictly categorised experience of sexual abuse and the other difficulties that can arise between fathers and sons. He also takes a subtle look at the other forms of alienation which can be equally devastating to vulnerable young men, perhaps suggesting that a paternalist culture is failing to face up to its duties. It's a complex film, with a great deal going on, and may well benefit from second and third viewings if you want to take everything in. Stock dedicated it to his former boyfriend RĂ©mi, who couldn't find a happy ending; it's a remarkable tribute.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2010
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A filmmaker looks back at his experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of his father, challenging his family to discuss what happened.
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Director: Michael Stock

Year: 2010

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Germany, Thailand


Doc/Fest 2010

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