October 15, 2012

Photographic Memory

Photographic MemoryRoss McElwee’s ongoing self-defining documentaries — a series he auspiciously began in 1986 with “Sherman’s March” — finds the reflective filmmaker sizing up his relationship with his 20-year-old son Adrian as it compares to his own younger self at the same age. Adrien indulges in smoking pot, drinking, performing extreme skiing stunts, and multi-tasking in the multi-media universe of cell phones, computers, and cameras. He’s perpetually surly, if not outright mean most of the time.

In response to his son’s insufferable behavior McElwee decides to go on a sojourn to St. Quay-Portrieux in Brittany, where he once cut his teeth as a photographer working for a mercurial wedding photographer named Maurice. McElwee was his son’s age when he discovered romance with a French girl named Maud before being unceremoniously fired by Maurice for some vague offence regarding negatives of some nude photographs Maurice had taken. Maruice’s philosophical lessons regarding art and culture have nonetheless stuck with McElwee like tar on paper.

McElwee’s competent command of the French language is laughably augmented by his ever-present Southern American accent. As he searches the sleepy French town for clues as to the whereabouts of Maurice and Maud, he connects with a sense of inner peace he enjoyed many years before. Sadly, it is a kind of harmony that McElwee’s son will likely never experience himself. Times have changed too much. For all of his father’s careful nurturing, Adrien is a brat.

Ross McElwee’s uncluttered artistic vision comes though in his plainspoken yet authoritative voice. We realize along with McElwee how age is putting its unavoidable stamp on him, and consequently us as his audience. Bittersweet though it may be, “Photographic Memory” reminds us that time is fleeting and all memories fade — even those captured on film.

Not Rated. 87 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves) 

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