My Father’s Stories

My Father’s Stories is about Emile’s childhood growing up with his manic depressive, paranoid delusional father. Set in the 60s in France, the breakaway of Algeria triggers an obsession in his father that becomes dangerous.

The film starts as kind of kiddie caper, as the pair of them play at spies for the anti-independence resistance, but quickly becomes a lot darker. Benoit Poelvoorde expertly plays the terrifyingly manic father, Andre, whose paranoia results in increasingly violent behaviour towards his wife and son. Emile’s journey goes from the youthful adventures of a father and son to the bitter realisation that his own actions and impacts on others have been warped by his father’s madness.

Emile’s mother tries to hold it together, protecting her son as much as she can, and keeping a lid on her husband’s violent extremes. Somewhere in there is the man she married and she still has loyalty to him.

Also, this is the 60s, so really, what can she do? This is before the public had any ready awareness of mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. It’s before there were ready pharmaceutical treatments. You were either normal and in society, or mad and in the loony bin. There was no sense of a continuum of mental health through mild, moderate, and severe symptoms.

Also, divorce was still rare in the 60s, as was awareness of domestic abuse or child abuse. Women’s refuges were only just being set up. For the kind of intermittent erratic violence that goes on in Emile’s home, most women would be expected to put up with it. So they were really on their own.

When Emile recruits a schoolfriend into his father’s imaginary resistance cell, the threads start to unravel. To prove the reality of his claims, Emile uses deceit and lies, realising in doing so how easily someone can be manipulated into believing something based on fabricated proof.

The whole way through the film, there’s just a little knot of dread of how this will all pan out. The relatively light beginning, where you hope that this will simply fade into Emile’s memory of childhood, gives way to multiple serious consequences that can’t help but impact the lives of the characters. You can only pray the bumpy landing back down to reality will leave everyone intact.

My Father’s Stories is a family drama about just what extremes can be hidden in plain sight.