The first person we see on screen in His & Hers is a newborn baby, who is placed on a bed in the centre of the screen and cries with confusion at the camera watching her. The affecting final image is that of an elderly woman, sitting alone in a nursing home, oblivious to the camera watching her from outside and lost in her thoughts. Between these two shots of woman at the beginning and end of their lives, documentarian Ken Wardrop has allowed 70 women from the Irish midlands to tell their stories. His & Hers, as the title suggests, is a film about the relationship between men and women, but the perspective the film offers on this relationship is strictly female. From young girls talking about their fathers to mothers taking about their sons, the film's subjects talk about the men in their lives with an honesty and humour that is both entertaining and ultimately moving.
Wardrop obviously has a way about him that encourages a sense of trust and openness in his interviewees. The people we meet in His & Hers are all unselfconscious in front of the camera and happy to chat about their men in a casual way, often while completing the daily household chores. It might sound utterly banal and tedious, but by interviewing women of all ages, Wardrop has crafted a narrative that tells the evolving story of their relationships over the years, and it is this approach to storytelling that makes His & Hers such a quietly absorbing experience. From the young girls complaining about being made to clean up their room by their fathers, the film quickly moves on to teenage girls, who blushingly discuss their first crushes, with one girl in particular fretting about the upcoming school disco.
What gradually becomes clear through these interviews is how universal these experiences and relationships are. The women are speaking in a deeply personal manner, but they are talking about a common truth, and that's what resonates as the film coalesces these voices into a single shared experience. The film moves seamlessly through women in their 20's planning for marriage and pregnancy to middle-aged mothers worrying about their teenage sons and then missing them when they leave the nest. Wardrop only spends a couple of minutes, if that, with each participant, but the clips he uses are judicious; full of wit, tenderness and warmth.
Wardrop shoots with a fixed camera, which has the effect of isolating his subjects, and that makes some of the scenes in the film's late stages almost unbearably moving. As His & Hers progresses, and its women grow steadily older, the spectre of death and illness inevitably grows in prominence. Most of the film's oldest subjects seem to have outlived their husbands, and I was deeply touched by their reminiscences. One woman recalls her husband collapsing in her arms after they had one last dance to "their song," while another laments the fact that sitting by the fire in the evening just isn't the same no she has to do it alone. There are still flashes of humour in this section of the film, but the general tone is more melancholy as it builds to a haunting final shot. As we look at the old woman left alone with nothing but her memories, our thoughts inevitably drift back to the fresh faced, optimistic girls we met barely 80 minutes earlier. Where does the time go?
The His & Hers DVD will come with a commentary from Ken Wardrop and The Herd, an early short film from the director. Sadly, neither of these extras were available on the check disc sent for review.
His and Hers will be released on DVD on April 11th 2011
Buy His & Hers here