Ross McElwee made his reputation with a highly original film called Sherman’s March and has continued to draw on his family history in such low-key, first-person features as Bright Leaves. His latest effort, Photographic Memory, is another cinematic diary which follows two separate but related streams.
McElwee has photographed his son Adrian in home movies since he was a boy, but lately they don’t seem to be on the same wavelength. Now grown up, Adrian is a somewhat aimless young man, and an enigma to his father. This gets McElwee to thinking about what he was like when he was 20-something, so he decides to return to the small French village where he spent some time during his formative years. Perhaps by retracing his steps he can reconnect with his younger self and better relate to Adrian.
If you’re unfamiliar with McElwee’s m.o., you should know that nothing terribly dramatic occurs. There are no earth-shaking discoveries or epiphanies. But McElwee is a homespun philosopher who finds exceptional moments in everyday life and records it all through his camera lens.
Maybe it’s because I’m a parent that I related so easily to Photographic Memory, or perhaps it’s irresistible to revisit our past and wonder “what if…” In either case, I enjoyed this film and found it quite poignant.