Having just picked up the DocFest Youth Jury award, the latest feature from Ross McElwee, now a recognisable face in the documentary calendar, has evidently won over some of the younger minds at this year’s festival.
My predominate feeling once the credits had rolled was a little different, something along the lines of, “How on earth has this reached cinema screens?”
McElwee has a very specific style – he walks around with a video camera on his shoulder, filming his life as it unfolds in front of him. He particularly likes to film his family and the focus of this documentary is his son’s transition from puerile cuteness to obnoxious adolescence.
This story is in turn juxtaposed with McElwee revisiting a portion of his earlier life, when he lived in France for a year back in the 70s. He attempts to draw parallels between the two and to reach various philosophical conclusions about the nature of growing up, family, and love.
While the above may sound relatively interesting, unfortunately this is self-satisfied, dull nonsense. It boils down to a father filming his loved ones whilst going back over some hazy memories of his own – interesting to him and perhaps those that know him, but not for everyone else.
To put this into perspective, imagine your dad filming a portion of your earlier life and cutting it into a feature runtime. You’d watch it, because it’s your personal existence, but your friends would only partake if they intended to take the mickey out of your teenage self.
McElwee also adds a droning voiceover to the proceedings, reflecting on the various bits of footage. If he’s not explaining the plot – which is all only half-remembered, making it seem rather inconsequential – he’s attempting to make profound observations, which are tenuous at best.
McElwee seems to think that his son’s obsession with technology will lead to him failing in love and life, but I’d argue he’ll probably be fine. How many people have their lives on track by their late-teens/early-twenties? Admittedly, he’s just a parent who’s concerned for his son, but why that needs to be made into a film I have no idea.
As evidenced above, this is a lightweight experience, which at least makes it watchable if little else. One might argue that it succeeds what it sets out to succeed, but in this case that is far from enough.