IN MY FATHER'S DEN
Paul (Matthew Macfadyen), a prize-winning war photojournalist, returns to his remote New Zealand home town on his father's death, battle-scarred and world-weary. For the discontented 16-year-old Celia (Emily Barclay) he opens up a world she has only dreamed of. She actively pursues a friendship with him, fascinated by his cynicism and experience of the world beyond her small-town existence. But Paul is not entirely welcome in the town, and long held grudges and secrets slowly boil to the top when Celia disappears and Paul is suspected of being involved. The most shattering family secret and Celia's fate collide.
Review by Louise Keller:
Richly complex in both its genre and emotional impact, In My Father's Den is a riveting drama, marrying a poignant coming of age story with mystery thriller elements. New Zealand writer/director Brad McGann magnifies the complexity of this story from Maurice Gee's novel, by the straightforward telling and isolated setting. Fathers have a lot to answer for, says sixteen year old Celia to Paul. This story's heart reveals how much indeed, they have to answer for.
The film excels at its ability to draw us from one emotional layer to the next. Beginning as a story about coming home, Paul is a local boy who has made-good in the big smoke. He has left behind his New Zealand twang, together with the small-town mentality and the painful memories long-ago buried. A challenging career as an acclaimed, respected photo journalist has given him more than enough to keep his mind from the bitterness of the day he left - a resentful brother, tragic mother, unfathomable father and the local girl who had his name tattooed on her toes.
Matthew MacFadyen's Paul wonderfully conveys a man whose outer layer has shielded him from his own vulnerability. Reminiscent of a young John Cusack or Russell Crowe (especially the rich timbre of voice), it's a strong central performance that will hopefully bring good roles to the talented MacFadyen.
We tag along as Paul is confronted by memories, as days when he used to sit in his father's deserted den, dreaming of discovering the world. There's the pain of loss as past moments become real again. And then he meets Celia. The irony that Celia also uses the den for her private moments is not lost on us. It's at this point that the focus of the protagonist shifts to the idealistic 16 year old who declares she would rather be a 'nobody who is somewhere' than a 'somebody who is nowhere'. New Zealand actress Emily Barclay is riveting as the impishly faced tomboy determined to make her mark.
There's such beauty in the development of the relationship between Paul and Celia and succinct editing brings dynamic rhythms to the shattering climactic scenes that detonate as surely as a time bomb. McGann knows exactly what he wants and all the cast delivers: Colin Moy as Paul's bitter brother, Miranda Otto as the hauntingly troubled Penny and Jodie Rimmer as Celia's mother who struggles to cope with her emotions. This is a story of secrets - secrets that seem even more sordid in breathtakingly beautiful remote New Zealand settings, where snowy peaks are a backdrop to glistening rivers and verdant hills.
The genre gradually changes to include its mystery and thriller elements, and numerous red herrings are thrown in our path, making the film's final moments all the more surprising. The rural community becomes real to us and although the film (like life) does not offer easy solutions, we feel satisfied by the encounter.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Like other recent New Zealand films (eg Whale Rider, Rain), In My Father's Den is dense and layered, intimate and engaging. There is an intensity to the relationships, as well as a coiled spring mood to the storytelling. This is especially true of the film's second half, once the story itself kicks in. The first half is visually arresting, and focuses on establishing the somewhat burnt out character of Paul (Matthew MacFadyen) and his dissonant relationship with his brother and the rest of the town.
Confidently made and performed with searing honesty by the entire cast, In My Father's Den does however diffuse its power by dangling us too long on the question line at the beginning. There is not enough forward movement to the screenplay - or compensatory dynamics in the direction - to be as riveting as the rest of the work.
Still, the location and the effortlessly evocative and effective cinematography help us past the meandering first steps, and the production design creates a wonderful sense of place.
Structured in time shifts from the present to the past - and from the future back to the more recent past - the film's core subject is revealed with an almost casual flashback and that moment triggers a cascade of realisations. By then we have come to follow a red herring about Paul, which now disappears and we are left with a whole new emotional burden.
It's a great film to have opened the 2004 Sydney Film Festival, filled with talking points and some new aspects of New Zealand filmmaking.
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IN MY FATHER'S DEN (MA)
CAST: Emily Barclay, Matthew MacFadyen, Miranda Otto, Colin Moy, Jimmy Keen, Toby Alexander, Geoff Dolan, Jodie Rimmer, Vanessa Riddell
PRODUCER: Trevor Hayson, Dixie Linder
DIRECTOR: Brad McGann
SCRIPT: Brad McGann (novel by Maurice Gee)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stuart Dryburgh
EDITOR: Chris Plummer
MUSIC: Simon Boswell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Ivey
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 28, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
VIDEO RELEASE: April 13, 2005