His dad, that unknown man: since he was a child, Steven Vit saw only one side of his father’s life. What exactly Rudy Vit did for a living remained a mystery to him. “I grew up in Thun, in a family like many others, with an older brother, a devoted stay-at-home mother, and an often-absent working father,” says Steven. I had a wonderful childhood, but the day my father told me he was going on his last business trip before he retired, after spending 43 years working for the company Schleuniger, I realized how little I knew about his life away from home.”
At the time, Steven was living in Stockholm where he was studying for his master’s degree in film directing, after a bachelor’s degree in Lucerne. With distance, he had started to look at his father from another perspective. “I didn’t know the emotional side of Rudy: what he thinks, how he feels. He himself didn’t know much about his father. I wanted to break this cycle. I know how fast life goes by. So I decided now was the time to get to know my dad.”
This is the starting point for “My Old Man,” the Swiss-Canadian director’s first feature film, produced by Bern-based Lomotion AG, and selected in international competition at Visions du Réel. “Rudy didn’t get why I wanted to film him. ‘I’m not interesting,’ he said repeatedly.” But as it was about his work, the sales manager agreed. Steven followed him to Asia and attended his last work meetings. But to tell who his father is, he felt his mother Käthi had to be in the movie. “That’s when I came up with the idea of focusing more on his transition to retirement,” he says.
“My Old Man” paints a moving portrait of a man who must accept that he is suddenly not expected anywhere anymore, and that his weekdays will from now on look forever like Sundays (the original title in German is “Für immer Sonntag” – literally “Forever Sunday”). It follows Rudy closely as he bonds with his family and tries to find his place in the daily life of a wife more used to his absence than to his presence. A simple attempt to make a béchamel sauce leads to a confrontation between Rudy and Käthi on how to proceed in what was previously the realm of the latter.
“Everything in the film is spontaneous,” says Steven. “I never asked them to act or re-shoot a scene. The parts shot in Asia and Quebec, where my father lived until he was 21, were easier. But at home, their daily lives lacked the spectacular. It was more of a challenge to film this routine, so I sometimes suggested an activity, like going for a walk.” The challenge is met: “My Old Man” never runs long. Its sensitivity, humor, and the emotional rollercoaster that Rudy experiences, ensure the action. Opening up to this extent was not easy for the patriarch, not used to showing his feelings. “I sometimes had to motivate him a bit to shoot,” explains his son. “This project may have helped him make the transition more easily.”
To capture the real without the protagonists being ill at ease and without the stress of a crew’s schedule, Steven filmed all by himself, making several long stays in his childhood home. The force of the movie derives from its authenticity. As when the couple, on the first day of shooting together, are seen discussing in their bedroom about the adjustments needed for their love to survive the permanent presence of Rudy at home. “Shooting on my own was an advantage,” says Steven, “but also a danger: I didn’t know how conscious they were of talking to the director, and not to their son.”
He adds: “We had set rules: I wouldn’t film on the sly and they could say ‘stop’ if it became uncomfortable, but otherwise anything we shot could make it into the film. They had a right to veto during editing, only provided they had very good arguments!” Did they use it? “No, they just made a few comments on one or the other scene, because they thought they looked bad or so,” he recalls, laughing.
Steven appears in a few scenes in the film, shot very early in the process. But he soon took a back seat, to avoid having to stick to still shots. He remains present through the voiceover, adding even more strength to the storytelling, as he provides his take on his father’s life and his own. “This filming taught me a lot about the importance of dialogue between parents and children, about living together, and about marriage. I think there is something for every generation in it.”
His relationship with Rudy grew significantly during the four years he worked on the project, he adds. “We talk to each other as equals now. I see him not just as my father, but as a man who also has fears, weaknesses, worries, like everyone else. He became more human to me.”