If someone asked if you to want to watch a film with 70 different women talking in it and nothing else, you may be a little apprehensive.
But this is exactly what Ken Wardrop has done with his latest documentary His and Hers. Wardrop first came to the forefront with his short film Undressing My Mother, a six minute film of his mother, in the nude, talking about her relationship with her body and how she has come to terms with herself after the death of her husband.
His and Hers takes off from where that film left off. It documents the journey of one women’s life, told through the lives of 70 women. Wardrop carefully selected his cast from a small area in the Irish Midlands, picking women at different stages of their lives, who each fitted in with the journey of the one architypical woman (later, when speaking to Wardrop this woman turns out to be his mother, who it seems is his muse).
The opening scene is a baby girl silently moving around on screen. From there she grows to be a toddler and so on, with each life-stage represented through a different female. Each scene fits perfectly with the one before. So they’ll be one woman talking about being pregnant and then will move seamlessly on to a woman who has just had a baby.
Wardrop’s skill as a director is his ability to get these women to open up and to say wonderful, charming and amusing things. Budgetary limitations meant the crew had a limited time with the women, so it is remarkable that Wardrop managed to get so much from each one. Even more interesting is that simply using a series of interviews with seemingly normal people, he managed to create a full-length feature film. His technique obviously worked, as His and Hers now the highest grossing Irish documentary ever.
But what it is that has captured the hearts of the Irish nation and hopefully will do the same for the oversees viewers? For a start there is something in it that every single person can relate to – we have all had a mother at some point in our lives. Many of us have sisters, or if not sisters then a sibling. We may live with a woman, marry one, or have a relationship with one. These themes are such an innate part of our lives, we will all find something of ourselves in the story.
The film opens with an old Irish proverb – ‘A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.’
You can be forgiven for thinking that the film will be a male dominated one, about man’s relationship to women, but it is in fact the other way round. It explores a woman’s relationship with various men over the course of their lives: their brothers, their dads, their boyfriends, their husbands and then their sons.
In an age where there is still constant debate about equality for women and a focus on the idea of the independent woman, it does seem a little strange to make a film purely about woman’s relationship to man.
Coming out of the film I was left a little unsure if I had enjoyed the film. I wasn’t sure if I was happy as seeing the woman presented like this, still so dependant and absorbed by men. A lot of female viewers will without a doubt struggle with this. However if you look at it in terms of one woman’s story which is just being told via snapshots of other women you can see it as story of love and loss and having nothing really to do with gender.
At the beginning His and Hers will make you laugh at the toddlers and swooning teenage girls, it will make you shake your head at those still in the early throes of love and it will make you cry at the women who have loved so hard, lost and had to learn to rebuild. The film’s ending mirrors the start, but this time it is an elderly women sitting in a home, unable to do anything for herself, like the baby at the start and not saying a word.
Wardrop gives us reality in a new light and from an unexpected angle that will leave you reaching for the phone to call your mum, or mammy as the Irish say.
His and Hers will be in selected cinemas from Friday.