Simple ideas are often the best — and sometimes turn out not to be so simple. “His & Hers,” a delightful, disarming documentary, consists on a very basic level of soundbites from 70 Irish women, through whom we learn about potato peeling, naming babies and the very domestic politics of the TV remote. But it’s also a profound rumination on infancy, adolescence, infirmity, mortality and, most emphatically, the relations between the sexes. With the kind of marketing calculation that seems foreign to this gentle, charming film, “His & Hers” could easily find a niche and possibly pots o’ arthouse gold.
Filmed in the Irish midlands, “His & Hers” begins, naturally enough, with a baby girl, whose face registers the full spectrum of human emotion before she settles down and lets the story begin — one story, as it turns out, albeit told by 70 mouths. It’s a movie of women talking about their men, candidly and humorously, via a progression from young speakers to old: The little girls we see scurrying down a hallway are replaced by children, adolescents, young marrieds, mothers, matrons and elderly widows; they talk of dads, their boyfriends, their husbands, their sons; they speak in tenses future, present and, sadly, past. There are no revelations, irritations or explosions. And yet the overall effect of the collective story — the one we all lead — is orchestral.
As deceptively moving as it may be, helmer Ken Wardrop’s directorial debut is also rigorously and remarkably cinematic: The colors, the placement of objects (often in pairs), and the interplay of camera angles, light and movement are all choreographed to provide fluidity from subject to subject and home to home. There are no startling differences among the women — all are white, Irish and middle-class, but that’s not entirely an accident of geography. “His & Hers” is about the universality of experience and the subtlety of differences among people who may at first glance seem homogenous, but who are individuated by their manner, stories and even accents.
The idea of transition permeates “His & Hers” — the limited way the subjects move about their homes, cut the grass or perform domestic chores between the interviews are shot straight-on, as well as in mirrors and through windows. There is a geometric precision in the visual compositions here that, if one were so inclined, might recall the ancient Greeks.
Production values, from cinematography to sound to Denis Clohessy’s music, are tops. And all the ladies are charming.