This next film review comes from New Zealand writer Emma Johnson. Emma says this film is “strangely moving”. This film is set in Lithuania. The “father” in this film is widely known as the father of the mafia due to his criminal exploits, he also lives with his eleven children and his purpose is to become the oldest father in Europe and to have as many children as he can.
Tevas (Father), Marat Sargsyan Next screening today Sunday 21 April, Capitole 2 at 18:00.
Link the buy tickets online for this film here.
Marat Sargsyan’s documentary, Tevas (Father), provides an intimate portrait of Vidas Zenonas Antonovas within the context of the relatively vast realm of his family in the Lithuanian countryside. While he is more widely known as ‘the father of the mafia’ due to his criminal exploits, which include extortion and highjacking a plane, this film explores another aspect of his identity – that of the patriarch of a large family, which he and his wife are determined to expand.
Longevity and progeniture!
It is Vidas’s day-to-day life that is intriguing, a domestic and pastoral world far removed from his previous one of crime. This everyday living sits somewhere between the ordinary and extraordinary, due to the unusual domestic circumstances. Vidas lives with his eleven children and his purpose (or perhaps obsession is a better word) is to become the oldest father in Europe and to have as many children as he can. He tells the director that he hopes to outdo his grandfather, who had 18 kids.
The opening shot of the film shows Vidas washing his new born son. This is an apt introduction as it is this juxtaposition of youth and possibility against age that we see throughout the documentary. The energy of the children running around the house, fighting and playing highlights both his age and his play against time. One of the children remark, ‘He’s not a criminal anymore, he’s old’. ‘And muscular’ another one adds. Yet his move away from crime and towards longevity through progeniture make him a rebel nonetheless – one who challenges time and age. This is further seen in the intimate shots of Vidas exercising and shadow boxing alone, keeping himself in shape in a small room which he locks, so that he can enjoy moments of respite from all the children who seek him out regularly. ‘Men can still have babies at 100’, Vidas explains, ‘if they look after their bodies well’.
A world unto itself
A whole private world is contained within the family, which Sargsyan opens up to us and invites us into via intriguing episodes and events that follow both seasonal and familiar rhythms. Vidas reenacts one his arrests by having his children play the authorities, instructing them to capture him and say ‘Eat soil bandit’. While archival footage of his arrests and time in prison are interspersed through the film and provide the necessary contrast that renders his current life so interesting, this familial reenactment provides depth and ties in his history to his current way of life in a way that the other footage does not. It is strangely moving.
Tevas is intimate and inviting due to Sargsyan’s ability to capture such a private world – from Vidas as Father Christmas bringing presents to the kids, to the family bathing in the river or sleeping in the numerous beds throughout the house, or all the children lining up to get hot chocolate and yoghurt. This familiarity allows us to appreciate that Vidas’s evolution from father of a crime family to the father of a his own enormous family and highlights how life does not often turn out how one might expect.
Photo – writer Emma Johnson.