Daddy [Kacper Anuszewski, Poland, 2018] /// I Modh Rúin (In Secret) [Ríonach Ní Néill, Ireland, 2017
A young married couple argue in front of their son Christopher (Eryk Pawlikowsky). Janusz, the father (played by the film’s director Kacper Anuszewski) is always out drinking with his friends and the mother (Joanna Madry) rages that he doesn’t spend enough time with the family. This is the primary cause of the couple’s marital conflict that triggers their separation and prompting a battle for custody of young Christopher, the unwitting officiator of this procedure. Christopher, with a heavy heart chooses his mother, a decision heavily resented by his father. As a parting gift the boy hands his father a small toy figurine.
The father believes the boy’s mother has manipulated the situation to the point where his child no longer wants to see or spend time with him. Initially this appears to be a reasonable assumption. In the early period of the separation, when the father calls the house to speak to his son on the phone, the mother denies him, despite the child’s excitement to hear from his dad. This eventually causes Christopher to resent his father, whom he now believes doesn’t want to see him. In another instance, further into their estranged circumstance, the father comes round to visit Christopher, calling out for him past his mother through the hallway, but he hides behind his bedroom door, no longer wanting to see his dad. Thus begins the fading of a relationship between father and son.
Years go by (signified with clever establishing shots of scaffolding frames that cut to partially developed structures and then again to complete, modern high-rise buildings) and Christopher has grown into adult, married with a child. He has lived most of his life without Janusz. He decides to go and visit his father at his old childhood home. He learns from a neighbour that he still lives there but that he has been taken ill and is currently laying in a nearby hospital. Seeing his father in poor health on the hospital bed, they silently reconcile as Janusz presents to his son the small toy soldier that Christopher had given to him all those years ago upon their inauspicious parting of ways.
Daddy is a powerful drama that charts the breakdown and reconciliation of a family, and explores the effects of familial burdens and past memories on the outcome of the present. The drama is delicate and sentimental, pulling the viewer skilfully in the necessary directions to help us understand the complexity of the situation at hand. This is helped along with a delicate piano score and fantastic performances from the central characters. It is a satisfying work that touches on very universal issues and is a short film that demands a much wider audience.
I Modh Rúin is a documentary short of personal, preformative and philosophical dimensions. Its central preoccupation is that of cultural preservation, examining primarily the processes of language and dance as means to celebrating past traditions, making sense of the present and shaping the future. This preoccupation is filtered subjectively through the female experience, focusing on the women of a family spanning three generations as they detail, through storytelling, music and dance, their endeavours to keep their Irish culture alive in a time and place where English has gradually become the normalised form of communication.
These are stories that go as far back as the 1950s, with these powerful and tenacious women resisting the patriarchal constraints of their society through song, dance and community gatherings. And it is with great success that these traditions worked their way into the present as we see young girls taking part in social groups as they gambol frivolously and in humble reverie of their roots. In one breathtaking sequence, we watch a young woman in a white room, starkly dressed in all white as she performs a bewitching and intensely primal dance with one foot tightly taped down to the floor. Her body cavorts, flails and flutters in all directions as she deftly balances one on spot.
This feels like the centrepiece to the film, clarifying (despite obvious abstractions in its form) the intentions of the short film, revealing simultaneously the power, vulnerability, defiance, struggle and ultimately the love of an entire system of ideas that resolves to prevail and breakdown barriers enforced by male powers of the colonial order. Womanhood is very much at the heart of this fascinating journey, as it considers the maternal qualities of speech, song, music and dance, seeing the protection of these things as a nurturing responsibility.
Rich with history and symbolism, I Modh Rúin is a delightful and absorbing story, filmed with evident passion and deep respect. It also seems to be a film that doesn’t purely serve to deny modern principles, but instead reaches towards more inclusive sentiments, whereby multiple cultures can stand alongside each other. There is an air of liberalism and a sense of freedom about the way the two main dances in the film so deliberately contradict each other in style and aesthetic – one in stark white, the other steeped in darkness and shadow. This is a very modest account of family, femininity and art, and a secret that hopefully won’t be kept in the dark for too long.
'Daddy' and 'I Modh Rúin (In Secret) both were submissions in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.