Using an old Irish proverb as its tag line – ‘man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest’ – director Ken Wardrop’s documentary His and Hers has won the hearts of judges and film critics alike. And it also looks set to capture the hearts of Irish cinema goers as it hits the box office this week.
Winner of the ‘Audience Award’ at the Dublin International Film Festival, ‘The Feature Award’ in the Galway Film Fleadh, an IFTA for Best Feature Documentary, and a ‘Cinematography Award’ at the Sundance Film Festival 2010, His and Hers has made the frequently insurmountable transition from art houses to general nationwide release.
This documentary film – funded by Bord Scannán na hÉireann – is in essence a patchwork quilt of contemporary female voices from the midlands of Ireland which reveals their feelings about the men in their lives. The opening shot of a baby girl being placed in a cot by her father proves the first patch in the verbal quilt heralding the female’s odyssey into a world which has typically been perceived as a man’s. What follows, in a chronologically sequential pattern, is commentary from seventy ordinary females from infanthood, childhood, the teenage years, adulthood, to old age. Mirroring the voiceless babe at the start of the film, the documentary closes with the shot of an elderly lady sitting in silence. The most significant male in each of the females’ lives reflects the stage of life the female is at, thereby moving from father to boyfriend to partner to husband to son to father again to son again to husband again to deceased husband and finally back to the son, proving an interesting insight into the female psyche. This timeless and age old story of love between the sexes generally incorporates accepted societal mores, such as marriage followed by offspring, into its narrative, but brief glimpses of co-habiting couples are in evidence.
While the fabric of the film fundamentally traces the personal and the specific, the universality of the tale crosses cultural, social, and even gender boundaries. It uniquely captures the fluctuating relationship between the two sexes as time goes by. The cycle of life portrayed so simply in the setting of various rooms of the home starkly reveals the transitory nature of man’s existence.
Following in the footsteps of his earlier work, Undressing My Mother, the Irish ‘Mammy’ proves a recurring motif in Wardrop’s work. A poignant moment occurs when Wardrop’s widowed mother reveals to the camera her sorrow at night when she wakes up and turns to hug her husband and instead finds only cold, empty sheets. The strength of the film lies in the touching openness of all interviewees involved. The privileged audience member enters into the personal world of a range of females through this emotionally charging sharing process. The depiction of Ireland’s older generation proves most inspirational and negates any notions of a decrepit, fossilized cohort. Instead the twilight years are filled up with activities such as learning to drive, playing the accordion, and surfing the net! Mobiles are customary.
The director makes no qualms about his personal motives in creating such a positive picture of womanhood based on his own close relationship with his mother growing up in Co. Laois. Consequently, the film takes the form almost of a eulogy to his mother and fundamentally reinforces a traditional notion of motherhood. The feminist revolution appears to have bypassed the midlands, with female roles primarily being that of wife and mother. Her career is to cater for the men in her life and proves a vocation which is embraced joyously. Modern multi-national Ireland and its homosexual population are excluded from the frame. Like the baby from the opening shots, males voices are mute and instead men are revealed through female commentary. Subsequently, the image of man which emerges is one of a dependable, hapless, yet lovable creature. Marriage is rendered in a heartwarming glow, although Wardrop states that two of the interviewees where divorced. The traditional family unit reigns supreme.
This patchwork documentary wraps around the viewer like a comfort blanket. His and Hers is a tale of love which reveals the depth of human love. However, it would appear that, in the midlands of Ireland at least, it is a woman’s world. The old Irish proverb used as the tag line thus needs to be updated accordingly. Perhaps ‘A woman’s love for man in all his forms is everlasting’would prove a more equitable proverb in twenty-first century Ireland.
Joanne Mc Entee is completing doctoral research on the nineteenth century Irish landed estate, as part of the Texts, Contexts, Cultures programme in the Moore Institute, NUI Galway. This project is funded by PRTLI 4.