- “The green chair is my father’s chair — I have to find out if I am allowed to sit in it. And if I am allowed to, if I want to, anyway...“
Abraham and Shraga, two elderly Orthodox Jewish twin brothers struggle — and the state of their apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone mirrors the turmoil. Since the parents’ death, it has become a filthy hideout, stacked and packed with remnants and rubbish. Thus insulated by the sheer volume of stuff in thick air and close quarters, they find themselves isolated from the world. Alcohol provides the only comfort while vermin takes over in this squalor of progressive deterioration and decay.
The bedbug infestation impacting upon neighbouring apartments finally makes a cleaning unavoidable as the upstairs tenant has stopped paying the rent. The doors are opened by force of necessity for survival.
Enter Hanan, to their relief also Jewish, and his white biohazard suited team, hired for the clean-up and turn-around... received by Abraham destined to deal with the assault on privacy while Shraga stays away and an out-of-view third brother refuses to cooperate...
In ‘Thy Father’s Chair’ the viewer becomes an actual participant in the sequence of events as they enfold. The camera, first countered with scepticism by the brothers resenting the clean-team intrusion, eventually becomes an ally.
We witness a bumpy ride full of obstacles, flee bites, bed bugs, trash and toilet cleaning.... but low and behold in an astonishing short time frame, positions change.
Over the stretch of a week (of a total of 10 days cleaning) -- Hanan, first rejected as hostile attacker, turns father figure. The camera becomes a validation of existence and tangible accomplice in the process, the viewer, the house guest they had never had.
Antonio Tibaldi’s observational cinematography sympathizes with the inner conflict of these ‘fellow survivors’. His lense let’s us feel the beauty and weight of what we inherit, both blessing and burden. May it be religious, material, traditional, cultural, societal, personal, physical, mental. His empathy allows us to see past the grim exterior/interior and relate to the child’s soul trapped within.
“In observational film making the key is to be granted access,... and to be patient, the reality will manifest itself. My role is to capture and witness in a non-judgmental way, and to know when to be ‘there’, camera ready. With this amount of material and go-with-the-flow filming, the film is ‘discovered’ in the editing room, by and with my co-editor & co-director Alex Lora.”
Australian-Italian Tibaldi’s attunement to the subject and caring eye renders this a tender tale from darkness to light, from holding on to letting go. The brothers’ transition: themselves by opening up to the outside world, and physically from dark cramped rooms to an airy apartment that the sun can reach.
- "The Torah wants everything to be clean, but unfortunately we veered from it," Shraga says in the course of the week. Everybody needs a helping hand. They come in all guises.
Thy Father's Chair (vimeo)
Dedicated to the late Chantal Akerman.
Interview by Uscha Pohl