Using three family members (and one “in-waiting”: a younger step-mother) filmmaker Oren Siedler has come up with a remarkably candid study of herself, parts of which will resonate with the inner child that lurks in us all.
Bruce (her father) “behaves like no one else … he’s a criminal who steals just enough to get by.” And five trips to jail. Born in New York City to parents who’d been swept up by drugs, civil disobedience and Timothy Leary, Siedler decides to leave her home in Australia and catch up with the man who, during the Vietnam War dropped out of society, vowing to never pay taxes again.
With the enjoyable music track*brimming with fiddle reels, solo banjo and a pulsating Havana soundscape*gluing the personal odyssey together, the inquisitive daughter catches up with her dad far off the beaten track in the Southern U.S. A particularly fascinating scene shows the bilingual (English/Spanish) Bruce unearthing his safety deposit box from the ground where its treasure is fake IDs rather than cash: bank and chequing cards, drivers’ licences, proof of insurance—everything the contemporary scam artist requires to survive.
Seeing all that plastic wealth sends Siedler (now middle-aged) back to her youth where almost daily, she had to memorize her new name as either a niece or a friend of Bruce as they plied their cons across the country.
But even more troublesome is her father’s current penchant for sending Oren nude pictures of his Cuban girl friend. Their extreme May-December relationship is consummated during his frequent visits where Fatima is showered with gifts (from short shorts to dildos). The lovers are forced to have their romps in the bed of a friend—Americans (no matter what their current ID) are forbidden from registering with locals in the hotels.
Not surprisingly, Fatima is unreceptive to be interviewed by Oren and makes herself scarce. When Bruce finally tracks her down, he quietly realizes that his wayward mistress has lied about her whereabouts, shattering his belief in their fidelity. “Hope springs eternal; perhaps this time there’ll be love,” he says unenthusiastically. On the other hand, Oren virtually smacks her lips with glee with the double satisfaction that her dad is dating an unfaithful gold-digger and she’s not the only one who realizes it. There’s a sudden feeling that those risqué photos reveal more about Oren than their subject matter.
The other central figure to Oren’s journey is her grandmother, 97-year-old Ruth. In their first meeting, Bruce shows himself to be a dutiful caring son: diligently cooking, cleaning and gardening. Once again Oren revels as she gets the near-centenarian to admit “[I’d] like to have seen him be a success at some position.” Yet countless other moms would kill to have the unconditional (though undeclared) love and support from their sons or daughters.
Amongst other talents, Oren is a passable violinist (performing some of the tracks herself) and her father a congenial, if semi-skilled pianist who takes solace in Beethoven’s sonatas. Their initial attempt at a duet is as instructive as it is metaphorical. She counts the beats aloud while stomping her foot – hardly gentle music-making and a pedagogical faux pas. Stumbling along, Bruce complains that “I’m listening to you and I can’t play it,” but at least her superior skills have been caught on tape.
The Cuba jaunt can’t end too soon and Oren races back to her mother and half-sister (starting life as an Orthodox Jew, Mom switched to atheism with Bruce, then married a Buddhist) at their mini artists’ colony in Australia where the shackles of “ritual, guilt and sin” have been abandoned and the atavistic capabilities of aboriginals developed and encouraged.
Once more, Oren enjoys the dissing of Bruce. “He’s a sociopath,” says her barely “normal” mother. A few frames later Oren confesses to the camera that it “was satisfying talking with Mom, but short-lived … I became defensive.”
Six months later the threat of cancer drives Oren back to Bruce, where his stoic philosophy is a refreshing contrast to all of the internal angst: “I’ve lived almost sixty-five years, think how many people don’t have that gift,” he opines.
In the coda, they revisit Grandma Ruth, plant some more (this time marijuana) then bury the frail matriarch just as Oren starts to relax and love her. The final father-daughter musical offering is much improved, she lets the music lead them both rather than force her companion to sing to her tune.