Photographic Memory: A Documentary Filmmaker Studies His Son

Ross McElwee attempts to understand his son in the present day by revisiting his own past in this autobiographical doc, in which the acclaimed filmmaker travels back to the French countryside where he spent part of his youth to reconnect with early years that, in their risky, aimless excitement, mirror his teen offspring Adrian's directionless circumstances. McElwee believes that finding Maurice and Maude—his French wedding-photographer employer/mentor and lover, respectively—is the key to coming to terms with Adrian's life, which is full of drinking, pot smoking, and distracted artistic ambitions. That investigative process for lost acquaintances is echoed by his mournful ruminations on the discrepancies between film and digital photography; the former is cherished for the physical connection it creates with memories, and yet which has been made archaic by a current techno-landscape that, in its hyperconnectivity, seems to have distanced McElwee even further from Adrian. Alternating among time periods and geographic locations, all of it connected by McElwee's narrated thoughts, the film proves a bracing and sometimes uncomfortable peek into private fears and regrets about mortality and missed opportunities. It's also, in its portrait of wayward Adrian, further proof that there's nothing more difficult, frustrating, messy, and insufferable than teenagerdom.

 
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