Phyllis and Harold

Overview

Director Cindy Kleine examines the sometimes-turbulent, sometimes-tender 60-year marriage between her mother and father in this documentary that blends cinéma vérité-style filmmaking with first-hand reporting. The result is a film that traces the relationship of Kleine's parents from their pre-World War II courtship straight into the new millennium, revealing long-held family secrets as it celebrates the unique personalities of two people who may not always get along, but ...
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Overview

Director Cindy Kleine examines the sometimes-turbulent, sometimes-tender 60-year marriage between her mother and father in this documentary that blends cinéma vérité-style filmmaking with first-hand reporting. The result is a film that traces the relationship of Kleine's parents from their pre-World War II courtship straight into the new millennium, revealing long-held family secrets as it celebrates the unique personalities of two people who may not always get along, but forever remain deeply in love.
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Special Features

Theatrical trailer; Commentary by director Cindy Kleine and producer André Gregory (My Dinner With André); Cindy Kleine's award-winning short film 'Til Death Do Us Part
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
The documentary Phyllis and Harold began as a portrait of the marriage of filmmaker Cindy Kleine's parents - a Long Island homemaker and dentist, well into their ninth decades at the time of production - and evolved into something much greater. Here we have one of those rare nonfiction films where the story gestated and cut its own arc over the course of the shooting. Though Kleine initially planned this film as an inquest - seeking to understand the two enigmatic adults who brought her into the world - the material quickly assumed radiant unforeseen dimensions before her eyes. She picks up a narrative thread in her mother's life that Phyllis had long ago abandoned and buried, and follows it over the course of several years. Therein lies a remarkable twist. Phyllis Weiss married Harold Kleine in the 1940s, but during Harold's enlistment in the armed forces, Phyllis entered into an extramarital affair with a married businessman whom she spent decades secretly regarding as the great love of her life. This paramour stirred up ardent emotions inside of her that Harold was never apparently able to elicit, but then seemed to vanish into thin air. From what we can tell, Harold appears to be a sweet, genial fellow, who professes lifelong adoration of his wife, but on-camera interviews with him demonstrate his woeful naivete about Phyllis's infidelity and the issues that have all but annihilated the marriage. We learn that he has also grown so quietly possessive and suffocating that Phyllis scarcely has room to breathe. Therefore, when Cindy and her sister decide to help their mom scour the country for her old lover, they must take extra steps to withhold knowledge of the goings-on from their dad. Eventually, they do locate the gentleman and put him in touch with their mom. What eventually becomes of this relationship, the viewer must discover on his/her own; the film derives much of its sheer pleasure from Kleine's willingness to forge ahead and venture into the unknown. Kleine's work is particularly noteworthy because she capitalizes on two factors that, in less adroit hands, would present enormous handicaps: Harold's inscrutability, and the lover's enigmatic refusal to be recorded or appear on-camera. What we get as a result of this is a chronicle where haunting negative spaces linger, in-between the dramatic milestones that Kleine hands us. These include the absence of on-camera Phyllis-Harold interaction (also reinforced via Kleine's strategic decision to interview them separately in lieu of together), the unseen passion between Phyllis and her lover, and the beguiling choices that lover makes, particularly toward the documentary's conclusion. As a result of all of this, the motion picture begins to mirror our own lives and the ne plus ultra of fiction in an uncanny way: the real emotional life of this story - rife with its complexities, contradictions and paradoxes - happens between the sequences and in our minds, sans the frustratingly neat answers that could render this film sophomoric. Also absent is the ease that often arises within a fictional context, with which we can sum up a singular human experience as heroic or defeated, joyful or miserable; some critics have assessed Phyllis's journey as a tragedy, but that's an oversimplification; there are tragic strands, to be certain, but also a wild lunge for joy and passion, during her final decade, that feels astonishing and exultant - and that many people never take at any age. The title may therefore be misleading: this isn't the story of Phyllis and Harold, it's the bittersweet tale of Phyllis alone - one woman who had been bottled up inside for decades and cruelly robbed of the psychological and emotional dimension that accompanies spiritual emancipation. We see her experience that liberation in full force when filial assistance materializes and acts as a catalyst, setting free the young woman who has been locked inside for decades. The content and Kleine's treatment of it make the documentary a resounding success. Its one and only detriment lies in the use of a few stop-motion cut-out animations by surrealist artist Lisa Crafts that bookend the film and crop up throughout on several occasions. These are overly cute and cloying, and cut against the grain of the story's earnestness and authenticity; fortunately, they take up only a scant amount of screen time. That notwithstanding, this courageous personal documentary never falls short of engrossing, while raising as many perplexing questions as it answers; at its core, it nurtures and sustains the mysteries of life itself.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 6/8/2010
  • UPC: 684682000161
  • Original Release: 2008
  • Source: Rainbow Films
  • Region Code: 1
  • Presentation: Subtitled / Full Frame
  • Time: 1:30:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 89,483

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Phyllis Kleine Participant
Harold Kleine Participant
Technical Credits
Cindy Kleine Director, Producer
Lisa Crafts Animator
Andre Gregory Executive Producer
Susan Lazarus Associate Producer
Bruce Odland Score Composer
Jonathan Oppenheim Co-producer, Editor
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