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Lies My Father Told Me

Year: 1975
Language: English
Format: 35mm
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Jan Kadar
Producer: Anthony Bedrich, Harry Gulkin
Executive Producer: Michael Harrison, Arnold Issenman, Arnold Shniffer
Cinematographer: Paul Van Der Linden
Editor: Edward Beyer, Richard Marks
Music: Sol Kaplan
Principal Cast: Yossi Yadin, Len Birman, Marilyn Lightstone, Jeffrey Lynas, Barbara Chilcott
Production Company: Pentacle VIII Productions/Pentimento Productions
Distributor: Columbia-Warner

Set in Montreal in the 1920s, LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME is a nostalgic portrait of Canadian immigrant life. Directed by veteran Czechoslovakian filmmaker Ján Kadár (who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET) and written by Ted Allan, the film hinges on the relationship between a boy and his grandfather, and is captured from the child’s point of view. Every day he can, six-year old David Herman (Jeffrey Lynas) eagerly accompanies his grandfather (Yossi Yadin) as he peddles goods in his horse-drawn cart.  David idolizes his peasant grandfather, the family patriarch, who adheres to the simple ways of life and honest hard work. Their days are filled with chanting, “rags, clothes, bottles” throughout the ghetto and bargaining prices for unwanted items (such as half a bath-tub). Every Sunday, David and his grandfather head to the country, where he regales David with stories and fables, creating a magical world where God paints the leaves fall colors and where David imagines that their horse, Ferdelah, can fly.

Home life is set in deep contrast to these Sunday outings. David’s father, Harry (Len Birman), strives for instant wealth in the burgeoning age of technology and commercialism and is embarrassed by his father-in-law’s run down horse and cart and of the family’s humble origins. Obsessed with moving up the social ladder and out of the Jewish ghetto, Harry is always asking for loans for his new, usually disastrous inventions. He competes for his son’s affections, but his frustrations are apparent as is his emotional insensitivity. When he decides to spend some time with David (instead of allowing David’s grandfather to take him on their traditional ride), he promptly abandons him almost immediately for back-room gambling.

David wants nothing more than to live the simple and respectable life of his grandfather. However, his idealist vision of the world slowly comes to an end as winter approaches. When David believes his beloved grandfather has lied to him he is angry and betrayed, and leaves horse manure on a disgruntled neighbor’s doorstep. When the police are called and order the horse and shed to be removed from the area, the grandfather refuses. Shortly afterwards he falls ill, leaving David devastated and alone. “…Under Mr. Kadar’s sensitive guidance, this journey back to lost youth modestly but touchingly reveals people as authentic as the settings in which they are captured.” (A.H. Weiler, New York Times, Oct.13, 1975)

LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME has played for international audiences and the box office gross was estimated by Astral to be over $8,000,000, more than any other Canadian film at the time. It also placed on Variety’s list of the fifty top grossing films for 1976.

The critical reaction was overwhelmingly favorable, both in Canada and internationally. The late distinguished critic Andre Leroux wrote, “The film constitutes a remarkable peak in the history of Canadian film, an important stage in the evolution of English Canadian cultural life… LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME is a passionate piece which will not fail to affect you. You will leave it moved, changed, and perhaps for the better.” (Le Devoir¸ Montreal, Sept. 27, 1975).

LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Ted Allan) and won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film by the Hollywood Critics. It also won an Etrog Award (Genie Award) for Best Film, the Grand Prize at the at the Virgin Islands International Film Festival, an Actra Award for Best Performance (Marilyn Lightstone and Len Birman)¸ and was included on the 1975 “Ten Best List” by the National Board of Review.

By: Lisa Goldberg