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Photographic Memory: Film Review

Photographic Memory - Venice Film Festival - H 2011

The Bottom Line

Filmmaker Ross McElee continues his obsessive self-reflection in this entertaining meditation on aging and memory.

Opened

Oct. 12

Director

Ross McElwee

Self-reflexive filmmaker Ross McElwee examines his past and his troubled relationship with his son in this typically personal documentary.

Veteran documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March, Bright Leaves) continues his endless cinematic self-examination with Photographic Memory, a meditation on aging and the vicissitudes of memories, among many other things. Prompted by his troubled relationship with his internet addicted, substance abusing and seemingly directionless twentysomething son, the film will strike a chord with any parent who suddenly realizes that their children are beginning to repeat their own mistakes.

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The young Adrian, already seen in a couple of the director’s previous efforts, has a restless, freewheeling imagination that indulges itself in such activities as filming himself snowboarding while stoned. Frustrated at his son’s apparent lack of discipline, his father decides to make a nostalgic, hopefully illuminating journey into his own past, specifically the French town where he spent much of his twenties. There he is reunited with Maurice, the philosophical wedding photographer for whom he served as apprentice, and Maud, the beautiful young woman with whom he had a passionate relationship.

The resulting journey of self-discovery is not exactly profound in its revelations, but as usual with McElwee’s efforts the proceedings are enlivened by his droll, witty narration, delivered in a sonorous tone. Hearing the 65-year-old filmmaker mournfully ask himself, “Seriously, how did I get to be this old?” is a treat all by itself.

Examining his past via such methods as comparing the vintage photographs he once took with the present-day condition of their subjects, the filmmaker delivers a frequently entertaining and insightful self-portrait that resonates emotionally despite its frequent lapses into minutiae.

Opens Oct. 12 (First Run Features)
Production: St. Quay Films, French Connection Films, Arte France
Director/director of photography: Ross McElwee
Screenwriters/producers: Ross McElwee, Marie-Emmanuelle Hartness 
Editor: Sabrina Zaella-Foresi
Not rated, 87 min.