Photographic Memory (2011, Ross McElwee)

“There were always secrets to be uncovered in the most mundane of photographs.”

I’ve waited a long time since the great Bright Leaves with its promising ending. After spending that whole movie looking into the past, Ross shows his son Adrian playing at the beach and looks towards the future. That future is now and Adrian is graduating high school, but Ross being Ross, he retreats back into the past, using his son as an excuse to revisit some people and places from when father was the same age as son, trying to find a place for himself after graduation.

The present segments don’t work for me. Ross plays the old fogey card, telling us he can’t understand his son with all the iphones and the internets and the facebooks, dismissing technology while shooting on a digital camera. Adrian seems to be doing fine, talks to his father plenty and goes on fishing trips, is taking up videography (they help on each other’s projects), so the frame story’s attempts to tell us that the two are unable to connect seem untrue, as do Ross’s claims that his son is lost and aimless, since we see Adrian stunt-skiing, writing films and developing his own media startup.

Ross retreats to France, seeking his old photographer boss (Maurice) and his girlfriend from a few months later (Maud). He marvels at the changes that time brings, finds the late Maurice’s ex-wife and finally finds Maud. Ross and Maud each thinks that they’re the one who ended the relationship, after which she married another photographer. I’m sure it was an extremely cathartic trip for Ross, and it comes off as a reasonably pleasant trip for us, really coming together when Ross gets back home with Adrian in the last few minutes.