fri 08/12/2023

His & Hers | reviews, news & interviews

His & Hers

His & Hers

Engrossing documentary about Irish women's lives is funny, touching and wise

'His & Hers': Irish women of all ages talk about their lives in this award-winning documentary

Ken Wardrop is a young Irish film-maker who has been winning awards since his days at the National Film School in Dublin. His & Hers, his feature debut, is no exception: it won the World Documentary Cinematography award at last year’s Sundance film festival. The title is deliberately misleading.

We might expect a film with males and females in it, but instead this is a group of 70 girls and women talking to camera about the men - fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands and sons - in their lives.

But, conversely, in asking them to talk about their lives in relation to men, their individuation is all the more clear and Wardrop’s wonderfully straightforward work exposes the quiet beauty of ordinary lives.

Wardrop begins with an old Irish proverb: “A man loves his girlfriend the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.” The subjects - some shown once for a matter of seconds, some whose contributions last minutes and are intercut with others’ - talk about love, life, relationships, loneliness and much more. His & Hers moves sequentially from cradle to grave; the opening shot is of a baby in nappies and the closing one is of an aged woman in a care home. Noticeably, neither of them speaks; the baby gurgles while the old woman is glimpsed through a window - and what begins with an “ahhhh” ends with a choked “uhmm”.

Between the two points all manner of girls and women speak incredibly naturally (without having been infected by the curse of knowingness in most reality TV) in their living rooms, kitchens or bedrooms. Apparently Wardrop had just half an hour with each girl or woman and he has edited out any questions or prompts he may have posed, and all to the better. The contributors are all white, middle class and from the Irish midlands, but from this apparent homogeneity comes a nicely broad view of life - young and old, town and country.

The film captures beautifully Irish people’s protective layer of self-deprecation - “Ah, I’m only messing,” says one teenager when she says she hopes a boy will invite her to a disco - while another young woman describes her boyfriend as “a caterpillar turning into a butterfly” because he happily agreed to do his own laundry for the first time when he moved into their shared flat after leaving the family home, where his mother clearly did everything for him.

There are some deliciously dry moments, too, as middle-aged mothers talk about their teenaged sons’ obsession with hair gel and their surprise that for all the time they now spend in the bathroom they never remember to clean it, or another’s description of becoming a mother-in-law as “moving into the back seat". Another describes with magnificent comic timing the exchange between her and her husband when she asked for a home exerciser as a birthday present: “Ah, sure you can walk around the table, said he.” Cue withering look from her and the director’s neatly edited next shot of the woman on her home exerciser.

Watch the trailer to His & Hers

As we move into the last third of this 80-minute film, however, the tone becomes more thoughtful, elegiac even, as the older women talk about widowhood and old age. Their wisdom is clearly hard-won as they speak of loneliness and the physical pain of losing a beloved husband of several decades. Wardrop avoids being intrusive or sentimental as only one woman is shown in tears, and when his subjects refer to old age and death they appear to face them with remarkable equanimity. “I do thank God every morning that I put the old feet on the floor,” says one cheerfully.

This is a quality production where the lighting, editing, camera shots and Denis Clohessy’s unobtrusive music are all first-rate. There are one or two glaring absences - none of the women talks about her menopause or any unhappiness or disappointments in their marriages, for instance - but Wardrop has crafted an affectionate study of womanhood that’s funny, touching and utterly engrossing.

  • His & Hers is released in the UK on 11 March
  • There is a special screening of His & Hers followed by a Q&A with Ken Wardrop to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Curzon Soho, London W1 on 8 March
There are some deliciously dry moments as middle-aged mothers talk about teenage sons’ obsession with hair gel

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