Halladin opens with a voice-over: ‘Small Mazovian town. Life is full of shortages’. These words introduce a brief sequence showing women waiting for their appointments in the town council. The next cut moves us to join local official’s in a conversation behind a closed door. A short verbal exchange reveals their primary concern is the growing poverty among local women, particularly single mothers and wives of alcoholics.
Such women need jobs and better living conditions, but their maternal responsibilities get in the way of their potential employment. As the title indicates, their fate is in the hands of the men who run the council.
Later, the camera accompanies the women as one by one they attend appointments with the male officials, whom they beg for help. They cry, complain and yell to be recognised for their contribution to society in their traditional roles of caregivers, when their husbands fail to provide for their families.
The thoughtful and protective men in the positions of authority show empathy, but their hands are tied. They simply don’t have any financial means to offer help. The film concludes with a male clerk’s line: ‘This is no place for cheap optimism… We need to find a solution to this situation’.
In the 1970s, film critics read Fathers of a Town as an interventional portrayal of typical degradation in a small town, or as a cry for help that was shot on behalf of the disenfranchised women.
While this translation of the film to the context of poverty certainly makes a valid point, Halladin’s documentary also forms a reflection on the paradoxical situation of the female in the country. With no financial reward for their efforts at home, the women on the screen are trapped.
Under Communism, poverty was usually debated without specific references to gender. However, the film points that traditional division of gender roles contributed to the problem, one that in this small town the government couldn’t solve.