Ross McElwee attempts to understand his son in the present day by revisiting his own past in Photographic Memory, an autobiographical doc in which the acclaimed filmmaker travels back to the French countryside where he spent part of his youth to reconnect with early years that, in their risky, aimless excitement, mirror his teen offspring Adrian’s directionless circumstances. McElwee believes that finding Maurice and Maude—his French wedding-photographer employer/mentor and lover, respectively—is the key to coming to terms with Adrian’s life, which is full of drinking, pot-smoking, and distracted artistic ambitions. That investigative process for lost acquaintances is echoed by his mournful ruminations on the discrepancies between film and digital photography, with the former cherished for the physical connection it created with memories, and yet which has been made archaic by a current techno landscape that, in its hyper-connectivity, seems to have distanced McElwee even further from Adrian. Alternating between time periods and geographic locations, all of it connected by McElwee’s narrated thoughts, the film proves a bracing and sometimes uncomfortable peek into private fears and regrets about mortality and missed opportunities. It’s also, in its portrait of wayward Adrian, further proof that there’s nothing more difficult, frustrating, messy, and insufferable than teenagerdom.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 10, 2012