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LFF 2021 Review: The Wolf Suit – “A bold, often raw piece of work”

The nature of memory and conflicting recollections are examined in forensic detail in filmmaker Sam Firth’s debut feature-length documentary. “How do I know the truth, when everyone around me tells a different story?” She asks at the start of the film. As her mother prepares to sell her old house in Walthamstow, Firth goes on a journey to the past to piece together what happened when her parents broke up in the 70s.

The Wolf Suit is a highly personal story, created using a mix of childhood artefacts, interviews with both parents and dramatic reconstruction. Firth re-creates some of the most vivid, and in some instances, traumatic recollections from both points of view. It’s an experience made more complicated by the presence of Firth’s parents on set, talking to the actors playing them.

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It’s a film that raises almost as many questions as it seeks to answer. The first is an ethical one, Firth’s sister didn’t want to participate, and her parents aren’t exactly on speaking terms, decades after the divorce. It’s a tricky line for any filmmaker mining personal experience, particularly in non-fiction work. But it’s also a sensitive film, hyper-aware of the emotional stakes involved for her family.

There are echoes of films that have explored similar themes like Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell and Matt Hulse’s Sound for the Future. Like both of those films, the artifice of filmmaking, including documentary is explored as part of the narrative. Firth’s father, known locally as “Dr Hippy Hellraiser” is the bohemian owner of the titular wolf suit (a boiler suit worn with a wolf mask for storytelling purposes/keeping warm in a drafty house). He maintains theirs was an open marriage, her mother believes it was infidelity.

At one point, Firth’s mum recalls embroidering the words “I secretly despise women” onto his trousers — her dad continued wearing them. The film is the result of years of investigation into conflicting memories, she began taping interviews with her parents as a teenager. Although it’s a tough watch, there is a sense of some catharsis and understanding being reached for Firth and her parents.

There are some sweet moments of levity and even joy too, particularly in watching Sam Firth’s process and her calm direction of the cast members playing younger versions of her and her sister. Painful memories are brought to the surface and some healing seems to have taken place by the end of the process. Overall, it’s a bold, often raw piece of work with the potential to get the audience thinking about their own childhood memories.

The Wolf Suit premiered at LFF2021, for details of more UK screenings follow

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