Film

Banal Family Secrets Unveiled In Phyllis and Harold

by

There’s a secret busting out of Cindy Kleine’s documentary about her parents’ long and—depending on whom she talks to—unhappy marriage, but it’s a pretty banal one. Kleine’s mother, Phyllis, an upstanding Long Island Hadassah lady, didn’t have to look beyond her workplace to find a lover with whom she conducted a clandestine five-year affair, which she briefly revived in her 70s. We learn little enough about this man to make us wonder if, beyond his floral epistolary gifts, he was all that different from Phyllis’s husband, the dentist. What’s interesting about the filmmaker’s rummage through her parents’ conjugal closet—another in a thriving sub-genre of domestic-turmoil docs as told by their spawn—is the abyss between the husband and wife’s points of view. Once a fleshy man of appetites awkwardly hitched to a bright, intense, buxom emo-glamour-puss, the unintrospective Harold, who apparently remained ignorant of his wife’s infidelity until he died, remembers the period of her indiscretion as his “golden years.” But that’s not the only pathos—it’s also that these two lived together for 59 years as strangers. Was Phyllis a self-absorbed drama queen who would have found any marriage inadequate given time, or a prisoner of the postwar suburbs wilting for lack of fulfillment? Either way, her daughter has it easier—she makes movies, knows arty types who’re good for a bunch of blurbs, and goes home nightly for her dinner with Andre (yes, that Andre). But I’m not entirely sure why she made this film.