Normally, something like Zachary Oberzan‘s debut feature “Flooding With Love for the Kid” is a concept to be scoffed at: the director, in the tiny confines of his apartment, adapted the novel that “Rambo” was based on and played all of the characters himself. It sounds crude and generally unimpressive; a novelty destined for YouTube and nothing more. But ‘Flooding’ contains too much love, depth, and dedication to be so easily dismissed — and though it likely still has its detractors (think of how many frustrated filmmakers bubbled with jealous ire), critics and audiences were tickled with Oberzan’s ability to not only nail the essence of childhood playtime, but to compose legitimately affecting sequences (you’ll laugh, you’ll cry) with so few resources. For his second outing, “Your Brother. Remember?” the director unleashes something in a similar vein, only this time more unabashedly personal. Digging through a wealth of home videos, Oberzan discovers reenactments of “Kickboxer” and “Faces of Death” that he and his siblings shot when they were young teens. Using these as a jumping-off point, the trio reshoots the entirety of their endeavors, now 20 years older. Sitting them side by side (and often slicing and dicing them into the same frame) contrasts the subtle differences (and not so subtle physical differences) that took place off camera in those two decades while also peering deeply into the rocky relationship between two brothers, not to mention offering an unflattering portrait of growing up and growing old in the same way the “7 Up” series did.
Aside from recounting the narrative of that early Jean Claude Van Damme jump-off (with some ‘Faces’ thrown in for good measure), the director acts as an emcee for the film, introducing certain pieces with psuedo philosophical insight in an appropriately comical accent. Though amusing, goofballery is not its aim — as we get further into the story (and discover that Zachary’s co-star/brother Gator was a former drug addict and jail bird), it’s discovered that many of his lines are not his own and either taken from a movie or from the mouth of his own kin. Much like the footage from their youth, placing these quotes in other contexts gives them different dimensions of meaning. A prison story revolving around feces humor originally sounds nothing but juvenile, but when it comes from the mouth of the perpetrator in the form of a playful anecdote told over beers, it sounds honest and gregarious. Similarly, a speech about the similarities between acting and drugs given in the beginning whiffs of pretension, but when Gator delivers the same arguments later on, we believe him. By exposing the multiple layers of what someone said or did, we get closer to understanding the perplexing essence of a person’s life — an absolutely necessary procedure when trying to cope with something as serious as drug addiction.
Some backstory is given through song, such as when Gator suffered his first overdose or the time he angrily threatened a Denny’s establishment, earning his first stint in jail. The tunes — campfire acoustic style — are expositional but enjoyable, the subject of each reenacted by the siblings themselves. Titled “History Lessons,” the good natured spirit of these scenes is in conflict with what they’re actually about and, strangely, seem to serve as some sort of parody of the real-life occurrence. Coated in this kind of humor, the situations are much easier to swallow and the handling suggests optimism in repairing their relationships tainted by Gator’s dire mistakes.
‘Your Brother’ isn’t just placing random things in sequence and hoping they compliment each other in a substantial way, it’s also about reflection. As young kids, Zachary and Gator spent time together reenacting a movie they’d likely played to death in their VCR and it meant little more than killing time on a weekend. However, it’s incredibly appropriate that the flick the two swede is about the relationship between brothers and all that entails: living in the other’s shadow, what they endure for each other, etc. Looking back, both movies (their VHS home videos and “Kickboxer”) say a lot about who they are and define their on/off relationship (a notion that Gator, in one of the only interviews included in ‘Your Brother,’ essentially confirms) much better than words can convey. Things can transform through time — they might wither in importance or strengthen in meaning — but it’s surprising how much substance is unearthed by analyzing camcorder footage and a late ’80s action flick. Oberzan uses these videos (and, essentially, this film) as a time capsule to learn from.
Throughout, Oberzan plays his cards well: his generally comic handling of the narrative gives its straight-faced finale extra strength, as upon finishing the closing battle of “Kickboxer,” Gator leaves the room in a frantic state. He’s experiencing severe withdrawal and laments his inevitable next step to the camera, which involves asking his girlfriend to “help him with his medicine,” tears streaming down his face. Being the only scene commandeered without an ounce of jocularity, it hits pretty hard. “Your Brother. Remember?” is able to find laughs in its weird portrayal of emotional events, but by the end it seems that everyone is done giggling and ready to face reality head on.
At its core, “Your Brother. Remember?” walks a fine line. Maybe it’s too personal for outsiders to care. But Oberzan finds a way to drag audiences in through a number of ways, such as the film’s likable tone, humorous presentation, interesting use of video, and unique telling of a family story; somehow his technique forces us to reflect on life as a whole and its fleeting nature. The filmmaker’s work thus far may seem unpolished and simplistic at first glance, but appearances should not deter. This filmmaker’s got an enormous amount to say and doesn’t need any lavish production to say it. [B+]