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Review: Photographic Memory

Will Coviello on Ross McElwee's latest documentary

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Anyone who enjoyed the odd documentary Sherman's March will instantly recognize the narrator in Photographic Memory. In Sherman's March, filmmaker Ross McElwee, ostensibly documenting Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's path of demolition in the Civil War, traveled across the South and asked former girlfriends why they broke up with him or why their relationships didn't work. Often he filmed these conversations until they became uncomfortable and the women asked him to turn off the camera. It's the same McElwee years later, this time filming his son Adrian, who has grown distant as he's reached his early 20s. McElwee is a much more mature and insightful narrator here, but occasionally one marvels at the way in which he kept his camera between himself and his son throughout their lives. Some of the moments are brilliant, but it's unexamined how Adrian felt about constantly talking to the camera.

  McElwee embarks on another self-indulgent trip, this time to France, where he spent a year in his early 20s. He searches for people he knew and places he visited, and reflects on the nature of photography and memory as well. He says he hopes to understand his son by remembering himself at the same age, but that seems like a convenient premise for another journey of personal exploration. His unreserved candor about his own feelings and shortcomings makes it an engrossing film, in spite of its humble revelations and regardless of how well he has his mission in perspective. — WILL COVIELLO

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