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4.3 out of 5 stars50
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 20 May 2006
This movie is such a heart-wrenching drama that it stays in your mind for days. Actually it hovers between the haunting mystery and the psychological drama. This is the story of Paul Prior, a world-renowned war photographer, who returns for the first time in 17 years to his small, isolated home-town in New Zealand for the funeral of his father. The local townspeople, including his brother Andrew and Paul's ex-girlfriend, Jackie, are stunned to see him again after so long. Reluctantly helping Andrew sort out their father's estate, Paul is forced to confront his eventful past, especially when he re-visits the old den in his father's house. The den was his father's secret book room. This is where one day he finds Celia, a mysterious and feisty sixteen-year-old girl who has been using this hide-away as a private haven to write her stories and to dream of escaping to a better world in Europe. Paul first insists that she leave but when he realizes that she is the daughter of his ex-girlfriend Jackie, he starts befriending her for a reason of his own (see the movie to find out).

Although there is nothing sexual between them, their growing and unusual friendship appears suspicious to the eyes of the townspeople, of Jackie and even Andrew and when Celia disappears, Paul is immediately the prime suspect.

As the Police start investigating Celia's disappearance, more flashback scenes come to Paul's mind, some of them depicting the growing friendship between he and Celia while others relate to his long-ago love affair with Jackie. These flashbacks are cleverly used because little by little they slowly unveil the haunting mystery and hint at the ultimate and painful truth. You really long to know what tragedy Paul ran away from when he was 17. However, although the plotline is excellent, the characters are what makes this movie so intriguing because they are so real. Paul Prior is very interesting with a deep, complex personality. He is a renowned photographer but he is very cynical about his job and about the world. One of his biggest flaws is probably that he is unable to face his responsibilities or to keep in touch with people-for fear of being hurt, no doubt. Yet, he enjoys talking to Celia because they share the same dreams and she has a very mature and unusual perception of things. Matthew MacFadyen in the part is really brilliant. well, I think that he was already a great Darcy in Pride&Prejudice,-a different Darcy from the book, I grant you, but still very attractive, (I even wish that there were more scenes with him)- but in this movie, he gives an amazing performance. He takes up so much the screen that you can't take your eyes off him. His voice is still irresistible but what is really amazing about him in this movie is the way he makes his character so real just by using his eyes to express something, a thought, a feeling. Emily Barclay's performance is also very impressive and brings energy and life to Celia. Her voice haunts the movie as she tells her wonderful stories. With MacFadyen, she forms a pair that is moving and unforgettable. The best moments of the movie for me are when they are alone together. Their complicity is so touching. There is a wonderful scene that I particularly like, when they are both in a car, he sitting at the front, she at the back, and she tells him that she has won the short-story competition. From the back seat, she can only see his eyes in the front view mirror (the camera focuses on that) and the look that passes across the mirror between them is amazing because you've got the feeling that he is proud of her. He doesn't say so but his eyes seem to express that. Keep the Kleenex tissues with you!The final scene is also moving!

The photography is beautiful but this is not the New Zealand of The Lord of the Rings, this New Zealand is more rural with still gorgeous landscapes. The music -with Patty Smith's songs- is used a lot and gives a nostalgic atmosphere.

PS: I almost put 4 stars because there are no English subtitles on the DVD. (what a shame). I am French and although my English is very good, it was sometimes hard to catch all the words especially with the New Zealand accent.
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VINE VOICEon 24 December 2005
Based on the book by New Zealand writer Maurice Gee, this is the best film to come out of New Zealand in recent years. Uplifting, heart-rending, intriguing and inspirational, every moment is a pleasure to watch.
Paul Prior, a troubled war photographer returns to his hometown for his father’s funeral. In his father’s secret study he discovers a 16-year-old girl, Celia, taking refuge from the world outside. The stage is set for a family drama, the unearthing of buried secrets, an enduring and beautiful friendship and, ultimately, tragedy. All this is lovingly captured in the human scenery of spectacular New Zealand and embroidered with details from the most subtle and sublime of imaginations. Past and present are beautifully handled as the film moves towards its unhappy and yet ultimately uplifting ending.
This will inevitably draw comparisons with Whale Rider: if only because of the paucity of Kiwi films that reach us in the UK. Unlike Whale Rider, In My Father’s Den requires no knowledge of New Zealand to appreciate fully. But one thing they share is a shockingly precocious performance by a teenager in a lead role. As the outsider Celia, Emily Barclay is beautifully poised and infinitely believable. MacFayed is also wonderful as the unsettled Paul, and the interactions between the two are a delight to behold. This is an uncompromising film but it is not brutal: as it ends in typically understated terms, you will be left with hope in the power of dreams and friendship. A treasure of a film that deserves to be seen all over the world.
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on 18 December 2012

The film is intense and the actors are all very good. Matthew Macfadyen is a wonder, but the rest is superb as well.

The depiction of the story requires a strong facility to suspend belief. Not that the issues are unreal, it's just the portrayal of them that remains wanting. The shuffling of time sequences had me watching the film twice at a very short interval. There are deep feelings involved here and for my money and time these were glossed over. For example, why is Andrew so incensed with Paul? Why is he so awful to his poor son and how come he is frigid? Because Paul is there and he is upset? Hmmm. The way he behaved towards his ravishing wife indicated that the dilemma was much more deep-seated than that. Perhaps if I could have understood more of the verbal exchanges, this would be clear to me now. On the other hand, I felt the motive involved in the murder weak and contrived, which is troublesome. Which brings me to my next point and gripe.

Really problematic for me, and I could almost say what practially spoiled the complete viewing experience for me, were the treacherously lousy acoustics. There was absolutely no balance. I did not once let go of the remote control, as I had to constantly tightrope between 100% (for DIALOG) and 50% for all other sound effects, including laughter and general clonking around but also for the music, which was actually quite good and fitting, but unquestionably too loud. I think if I could have heard all dialog and understood it properly, I could have given this film 5 stars. But I guess I'll never know. What a waste of story and talent.
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on 6 February 2006
Matthew Macfadyen is simply a superb actor. I was intrigued by him in Spooks, delighted by him in The Way We Live Now, and bewitched body and soul (sorry, I couldn't resist...) in Pride & Prejudice. But In My Father's Den shows the true depth of his talent.
War journalist Paul Prior returns home for his father's funeral having left at age seventeen. Staying on to help his brother Andrew (Colin Moy, Riverworld) clear out the house, Paul is inundated with memories of his childhood; his relationship with his father, his mother's suicide and affair with ex-girlfriend Jackie (Jodie Rimmer, Snakeskin). At the center of all of these memories is his father's den - a secret room filled with books and atlases which he discovered as a boy and where he dreamed of traveling the world.
Taking a temporary teaching position at the local school, Paul befriends ex-girlfriend Jackie's sixteen year old daughter, Celia (Emily Barclay). When Celia goes missing, Paul is the prime suspect.
The ending is gut wrenching.
Emily Barclay's debut is excellent, but without question, Matthew Macfadyen's acting makes this movie.
I so look forward to seeing more of his acting in the future. Macfadyen has the ability to make you forget you're watching a movie and isn't that what all actors should aspire to?
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on 7 May 2012
I don't wish to write a negative review because this film has a lot going for it but, on the whole, I wasn't as bowled over as I expected to be if you consider that I bought it because of the reviews I read and also because, since I first saw him in Poliakoff's 'Perfect strangers' I have always enjoyed Matthew MacFadyen's acting. He is indeed a very talented actor and whether he is a spook in the famous series, a priest in another one or a character in a more challenging film, he's always a joy to watch. But those reviews led me to believe I would see a masterpiece and I didn't. It is undeniable that the film deserves to be seen and that the complex human relationships make it a powerful drama but they also make it a rather peculiar one and I found that it really took way too long to 'get going'.For some characters ( Paul's sister in law, Paul's nephew...)I would have liked to be able to understand how they came to be the way they were. I don't think we had enough elements to grasp why they had become what they are. AS for the 'final' shocking and revelatory scene I do find it strange that three people should all have witnessed it without trying to 'intervene'.
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on 13 July 2012
In the first 20 minutes I asked myself where the story would take me. An undefined, grey little village on the south island (I guess from the landscapes and the cold weather), harsh lives, parental loss, a funeral. Young, world known, sensitive, troubled war photographer comes back "home" to bury his father. So what.

Then the first jump. Guilt takes Paul, the almost-Pulitzer-winner star, to stay after the funeral and take care of the family matters because he left all on his back 20 years before. His brother is resentful, his family cold. The others (old school friends, the ladies at the grocery store, the teachers ..) not. Why? What happened there ...

Second jump: We start seeing some past. The present show a young teenager who comes in contact with Paul, and Paul starts opening up - the two of a kind exchange and discover they get along pretty well. What happens in a small town when a handsome 30-something meets a joung girl? And the universal question here: Isn`t our social structure separatig generations so that every relationship like in the movie is automatic despicable - not to write worse?

Then the final , tragical catharsis, like in a Greek tragedy: The girl disappears, a future genius writer will never be, the family secrets are revealed. I did not know where the movie was going . I did not get the answers until the end.

It is a movie about guilt, loss and absolution, greatly thought, written and developed. Together with the criminal story there are so many massive personal topics involved - some of them just glimmering here and there - that it really blow me off.

As I was interested on the background I discovered that Brad McGann, the incredible author of this first work, died with 43 years of age of bowel cancer, 2 years after this first movie of his. What a loss. What a tragedy. What a shame. And what a movie.
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on 7 April 2014
With little bits of spoiler inside! Careful!

Really looked promising at first start, this movie is a bit disappointing at the end (and clearly in the middle). It's pretty long to settle, despite the actors' talent and the heavy, heavy atmosphere of loneliness. Some characters are interesting (main character's family mostly and especially Jonathan) but some of them are just... maybe a bit annoying? I personally didn't believe in Celia. I think the actress did a great job, but the writing wasn't really convincing. The fact that she's this hometown girl, dreaming of being a writer (oh god, the reading of her essay through the whole movie...), receiving that rather encouraging letter from this writer's competition is the kind of cliche that annoyed me a lot. This and the "my step-father beats me every once in a while... but it's ok, let's hide it!".

It also didn't surprise me as it was willing to (the dark secret of a somewhat abusive father...). And when you think about the whole plot you kind of realize the story isn't something really new and that other b-movies already went there unfortunately. Sorry for being a bit insulting as I trully believe this movie tried... but to me, it kind of failed...
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on 2 April 2007
I watched this for the first time in 2005, too tired to fully appreciate it. Now, after seeing it again a few times, I'm just simply blown away by its slow, thoughtful pacing, brooding atmosphere and intricate storyline. It seems like a fairly straightforward story at first, but it isn't, and the different storylines start to intertwine in unsuspected ways slowly but surely as the story unfolds. To me this is in no way a thriller or a "whodunnit" story. The disappearance of Celia, for me, isn't the central storyline at all. It's the connection, and the nature of that connection, between this young, bright, dreamy girl and a disconnected, damaged man scarred by his job as a war photographer, but also, as we slowly learn, by events during his own teenage years.

The performances are very natural and intense. Matthew MacFadyen, as the not so easy to like, emotionally scarred Paul, completely pulled me in from the moment he arrives on the train. The young girl playing Celia was strikingly natural and strangely quirky, which fitted her part brilliantly. The scenes between them echo a silent tenderness and connection that completely drew me into their damaged little world. The cinematography of the NZ landscape in different seasons is also stunning and beautifully intertwined with the non-chronological storytelling (seeing the seasons change helped me to make sense of the storyline, as it jumps forwards and backwards in time a lot). This story takes its time to unfold, and doesn't take the easy route to its surprising and painful conclusions. I have been rewatching this a few times now (updated this review in january 2013), and I keep finding little details and twists in the storyline I hadn't noticed before. Not a film if you have a short attention span, but if you're willing to sit this one out, you won't regret it.

The only thing that put me off was the fact that UK censorship decided to cut out a scene that I thought was very meaningful. It concerned a short sex scene, unrevealing when it comes to nudity, but all the more revealing when it comes to Paul's incapacity to handle emotional closeness to another human being. The scene shows how Paul auto-asphyxiates with his belt while he's having anonymous sex with some woman he picked up in a bar. It shows just how emotionally disconnected this character is, and I was very sorry to see that scene go because of that. There are versions that have retained it (the Australian/NZ R4 version, which I own besides the R2 UK version I bought later because my new pc wouldn't play R4 dvds).

5 stars out of 5, although I was tempted to go for 4 stars for the unnecessary censorship and the lack of any subtitles. But I love this film so much I'm willing to pass over those little flaws.
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This excellent film from New Zealand slowly draws you into the life of Paul Prior (Macfadyen) an award winning war photographer, returning home for his father's funeral and slowly unearthing secrets about himself and his family.

Paul is emotionally withdrawn as a result of the close bond between his brother and their mother that excluded him, his brother's wife even having an uncanny resemblance to their mother.

Celia Steimer (Barclay) - great performance in her first film - a teenager is strangely drawn to Matthew and it is this relationship, the conflict between her warmth and his cold and remote attitude that is the centre of the drama as the family secrets slowly emerge.

The film succeeds brilliantly in presenting the drama as a slice of real life, all the characters are fully rounded personalities and there is not a single scene that does not ring true.

An engrossing film that deserves its many awards and nominations.
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on 14 January 2011
I won't go into the plot as other reviews have done that in great detail, but I have to say this is one of the most underrated films here in the UK. I saw this at an independent cinema when it first came out and it has remained my favourite film ever since. Beautifully acted, wonderful scenery / imagery, an absolute pleasure to watch. The psychological elements will stay with you for years to come (if you're anything like me that is!)
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