From Cradle To Grave, His & Hers

From Cradle To Grave, His & Hers

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Element Films 

Release date: March 11th 2011
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 83 minutes

Director: Ken Wardrop

Cast: Geraldine Igo, Eilish Beglan, Mary Harton

Official Movie Site

“A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best and his mother the longest.”

With this Old Irish proverb opens His & Hers, a documentary following the relationships of the fairer sex to its coarser counterpart from the cradle to the grave- quite literally.

His & Hers

No fewer than seventy daughters, lovers, wives and mothers from middle Ireland speak with affable candour on the subject of their special lads.

Beginning with a kind of kids-say-the-funniest-things burbling infancy (a propos of Daddy & how nice but strange he is), skipping up the mortal stair to hysterical giggling adolescence on discos and boyfriends.

His & Hers

Rising to the rather bewildered by sweetly starry-eyed step of earliest domestic and marital contentment. Falling forward into the pride and magnanimity of motherhood. Stooping on to the quiet gladness of retirement and beyond, past bereavement, loneliness and renewed dependency to (extending our metaphor) the undiscover’d landing (ahem) from whose bourn no traveller returns.

That is to say, in an unfortunate confluence of ironies, residential care.

Which, I think you’ll agree, seems a rather bleak trajectory. It is the film’s misfortune that the sequence of human life happens to be as it is. What opens as a pretty unambiguous feel-gooder must inevitably satisfy itself with the eccentric stoicism of certain antique ladies to counteract what is otherwise an abject finale. (Look out for the amazing old girl mowing her lawn. She is completely and defiantly mad.)

His & Hers

But His & Hers aspires, at least, more to honesty than sentimental censorship: the camera rests on each face, drawing into the vacuum of silence more and more from each interviewee like an impassive psychoanalyst. It appears to be as steadfast in its documentary duty as it is in its camerawork, clinical but empathic, stylised yet still somehow unadulterated.

But is it really quite so thoroughly honest, I began to wonder? With neither a narrator nor any other explicit narrative cues (chapter divisions, for example), the tone of His and Hers is down to the interviewer’s questions- which we don’t hear- and editing. It would seem that the conversations were kept cheerful and undemanding, rarely straying from light-hearted banter; and when the questioning did depart these safer shores, artsy editing could step in to ameliorate the direct sight of suffering.

His & Hers

I think what it’s going for is a kind of quasi-religious village-fête celebration of life: Louis Armstrong growling ‘What a Wonderful World’ as soundtrack to the quaint silliness of Father Ted, as it sometimes seemed to me. Indeed much of the humour comes from (fond) stereotypes- for an English audience, anyway.

And for at least half of the film this is all very disarming. These rustic Irish folk are earnest, gentle, kind, forgiving, open and sometimes delightfully eccentric. We’re moved by their affections and we chuckle at their foibles. The laughs are regular and hearty.

His & Hers

Director Ken Wardrop acknowledges that His & Hers is really a film about men; and from the congregation of interviewees, who for the most part appear to be quite traditional, one gets the slightly unsettling impression of a lingering patriarchal accent to their lives- albeit sometimes softened with some concessions to sexual equality (one newlywed speaks with pride of her husband doing his own laundry). The film certainly presents an oppressively narrow vision of gender relationships: straight, conventional, and unperturbed by two of the more popular of marital activities, viz. infidelity and divorce.

His & Hers

His & Hers is then in some ways a rather parochial and naïve film- but maybe that’s what it wants to be. In so far as it reflects a traditional Ireland it promotes it. The festive cheer is perhaps innocuous enough, and it quite bravely undertakes to confront and cope with a selection of the more obdurate issues in life, like old age and death.

But with Father Ted on the one hand, and Our Father Who Art in Heaven on the other, His & Hers has a rather strange dynamic: the first half stuffs you with anodyne while the second pokes you in unpleasant places with a pointed stick. A little like life, then, I suppose.

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