“Just watching two women talk freely while polishing their nails becomes this immensely satisfying experience to witness, and this is basically what makes Father’s Day one of the finest surprises out of Berlinale.”
For a film called Father’s Day, this one’s sure at its most charming when there are actually no fathers on screen. And that’s no coincidence.
Kivu Ruhorahoza’s third feature film introduces us to three different families, all broken in some way. A kid wandering the streets with his petty thief father, learning how to collect pieces of metal from cars or steal pets to sell them on the highway. But the boy doesn’t have it in his heart to take cute little dogs away from their homes, so returns them when he can, telling little lies to his father. This father-and-son storyline moves by itself throughout the film, while the other two storylines about two women with different traumas to overcome intertwine very early on. First there is a mother who has recently lost her son in an accident and has to cope with the ill-judged behavior of her husband, the father in this arc. A selfish man, already bankrupted because of a few loans, who still has the nerve to accuse his wife of immorality because she’s working as a masseuse. The second story tells of a young woman looking after her bed-ridden father, an ex-military man guilty of crimes against humanity during the Rwandan Civil War. He needs a lung transplant and she’s a suitable donor, but does not believe her father deserves to be saved.
Ruhorahoza’s film does not care about crystal clear closures or resolutions, but aims for a sense of hope. And that hope comes, in both women’s stories, in the punishment of the men, the symbols of the old and rotten status quo. The death of patriarchy is a cause of celebration and purification in Father’s Day. But this is not a film standing solely on its approach towards the zeitgeist. The simplicity of Ruhorahoza can be mistaken for amateurism at first glance, but as the film develops one can clearly see he’s walking the Hong Sang-soo path here. Everyday life and relationships of genuine people, the camera as a fly on the wall. And as a harsh critic myself of Hong’s recent works, Father’s Day is not about authors, filmmakers or actors, it’s about simple men and women trying to find some peace in life, and that alone feels way more relatable and true.
The genuine feeling Ruhorahoza catches here owes a lot to his cast and the performances he got out of them. Both leading women, Mediatrice Kayitesi and Aline Amike, are simply extraordinary (I think we should keep an eye on Amike, since she may be a star in the making). Kayitesi has one scene which does not do her performance justice, because it’s one of the rare instances when the film loses its touch with what’s real and tries to milk some provocative dramatic situations, like a client in the massage parlour offering a lot of money to Zaninka for some sexual advances. Zaninka, or any other woman for that matter, would not start to argue with him and immediately leave the room, but the director wants us to stay on edge, even consider if she would actually accept the offer. Personally I think Ruhorahoza’s after a fake and unnecessary dramatic effect here, a bit incompatible with the film’s general tone. But these kinds of minor missteps come very rarely and early in the film. As the characters get more comfortable with expressing their true feelings, Father’s Day also finds ease in its filmmaking. Just watching two women talk freely while polishing their nails becomes this immensely satisfying experience to witness, and this is basically what makes Father’s Day one of the finest surprises out of Berlinale.