Cindy Kleine recounts the turbulent 59-year marriage of her parents, Phyllis and Harold, in this frank, touching documentary. Though the marriage appeared happy to most, the union of Phyllis and Harold was often anything but. Phyllis and Harold is a personal, often hauntingly sad documentary about weighing life's disappointments against the triumphs that persevered. This film will no doubt strike a chord with many who may find themselves in similar circumstances.
Phyllis met Harold during WWII when he was serving in the army. After a few dates, Phyllis broke off the relationship because Harold was moving too fast. Harold, then "domineering" according to his own admission, did not accept rejection, and the pair was eventually married. In the first minutes of Phyllis and Harold, director Kleine films Phyllis and Harold's very different recollections of how their marriage came about. Harold remembers Phyllis as a little reluctant but still absolutely in love. Phyllis confesses she felt obligated to marry Harold after having sex with him.
Kleine says in the film that she always wondered how her parents ended up together. Through a series of first-person interviews captured over 12 years and interspersed with family photos and videos, she attempts to capture the highs and lows of her parents' marriage and to answer that question. What she uncovers is a marriage with surprisingly little love, at least in the traditional sense. The chips are heavily weighted toward Phyllis, perhaps due to her greater willingness to share personal memories. She tearfully recounts a long-term affair she had with a man during the early years of her marriage. She recalls the terrible guilt she lived with during the affair, something that ultimately caused her to end the relationship. After hearing this story, Kleine helps Phyllis get in touch with the man she loved years before. A surprising connection remains, but neither is willing to abandon their current life.
I was fascinated by all the domestic drama in Phyllis and Harold: Harold drank too much and ruled the family with an iron fist. Phyllis was emotionally absent and let a nanny raise her daughters. Kleine's childhood nanny reveals how Phyllis was deeply hurt when her daughter showed a greater allegiance to her caregiver than her mother. Kleine also remembers keeping secrets from her father on orders from Phyllis. The most striking thing about these revelations is how they are, to some extent, applicable to every family. Not every parent has an affair or drinks too much, but no family is perfect. Parents sculpt their children, who in turn take this experience and continue to grow.
Because it was filmed over 12 years, Phyllis and Harold follows the couple through the final years of their lives. The film can be a little depressing, especially when Phyllis and Harold begin abandoning the activities they once relished. My greatest criticism of the film is that Harold is not given much of a chance to defend himself for past indiscretions. But, I realize his memories, as well as those of Phyllis, may not always be accurate. Perception can shift with time, and the marriage was not without happiness. Harold may have loved Phyllis more than she loved him, and nothing can change that. But, as Kleine recognizes, Phyllis and Harold brought two successful children into the world, an accomplishment that cannot be ignored. Phyllis and Harold may not be a rosy portrait of marriage, but it sure feels authentic.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Shot on video, Phyllis and Harold looks about as good as can be expected on DVD. The fullscreen stock has been matted in anamorphic widescreen, and, as expected, Phyllis and Harold looks like a home movie. All the quirks of the format are present, including varying sharpness, blown out highlights, noise, shimmering and murky blacks. Fortunately, none of these issues detract from the film, and the transfer is mostly bright and clear. The English 2.0 audio is generally acceptable, though there are occasional spots of hiss, feedback and popping. No subtitle options are included.
Although the box indicates that some extras, including an audio commentary and a short film, are included, none appear on the disc. In fact, there are no menus of any kind.
Cindy Kleine's documentary Phyllis and Harold places viewers amid the often uncomfortable 59-year marriage of two imperfect people. There are many regrets and tearful confessions, at least from Phyllis, but there is a bond between the pair that exists despite a rocky relationship. Phyllis and Harold is a unique, cinema verité-esque look at a not-uncommon marriage. The film is both affecting and entertaining and comes Highly Recommended.