'Clear Years' ('Les Annees Claires'): IDFA Review

Clear Years still 2- H 2015
Courtesy of International Documentary Festival Amsterdam
Great advertisement for having a kid; not-so-great advertisement for filming one's life.

Belgian writer-director-editor-cinematographer Frederic Guillaume's nine-year self-portrait premiered in competition at the Dutch festival.

Belgian multihyphenate Frederic Guillaume experiences the ups and down of living "life thru a lens" in his feature-length debut, Clear Years (Les annees claires). A breezy, brisk cine-diary which flashes through nine years in 75 engaging minutes, it will prove a tempting choice for documentary-oriented festivals and channels and should particularly click with thirtysomething males discovering the chaotic joys of fatherhood.

While Guillaume (no relation to the Swiss animator of the same moniker) is obviously the navel-gazingly self-analytical subject of the piece, and even though it's on-off partner Claire who lends her name to the gently punning French-language original title, it's their kid Juliette — born around the 18-minute mark — who is the real prime mover here. Claire flits in and out of the proceedings with an enigmatic, capricious insouciance, but it's Juliette who pulls Frederic out of the mid-life crisis in which he's enmeshed at the start of the pic to belatedly embrace responsibility and maturity.

We watch him develop from a driftingly footloose 29-year-old uncertainly facing the big three-oh, propelled by the prospect of fatherhood to undertake a challenging "journey into self" — a spiritual quest which also involves a certain degree of new-agey globetrotting and philosophising. For some reason it's Scandinavian dudes who have proven best suited to this kind of intense introspection, via films such as Gunnar Hall Jensen's gloriously odd Gunnar Goes Comfortable (2003) and the autobiographical quasi-novels by Karl Ove Knausgaard which have amassed a worldwide cult following over the past decade.

Clear Years never digs anywhere near as deep as those works, instead favoring the beguiling looseness and episodic effervescence of Alain Cavalier's Le filmeur (2005), or Jonas Mekas' epic home-movie collages. Montage is absolutely crucial here, and the three-person editing team — Guillaume in collaboration with Frederic Dupont (who worked on Miguel Gomes' Tabu) and Gaelle Hardy — achieve a poetic fluency of images which consistently elevates these quotidian glimpses of a chaotic but not especially remarkable existence.

Sequences tend to be short, the music is generally jaunty, line-drawn animations add a sprinkle of charm and, for the most part, the inevitable shadows of preciousness and self-indulgence are kept safely at bay. As a "kino-therapeutic" peek into a mildly troubled soul, Clear Years yields no particularly new insights; as a first-person love-letter to beloved family members, however, it works much more effectively, striking droll and touching notes of unquestionably genuine emotion.

Production companies: Wrong Men, Images d'a cote
Director-screenwriter-producer-cinematographer: Frederic Guillaume
Editors: Frederic Dupont, Frederic Guillaume, Gaelle Hardy
Sound: Maxime Coton
Score: Castus, Matthieu Ha, Manuel Roland, Elaine Magnette
Sales: Rise and Shine, Berlin
Not rated, 75 minutes.