Thursday, May 14, 2020

Movie Review: Rewind

Rewind **** / *****
Directed by: Sasha Joseph Neulinger.
It can be very hard to make a good autobiographical documentary – your very closeness to the subject, which provides you with unprecedented access, is also the thing that can cloud your judgment – and make it impossible to see things clearly. Occasionally though, one breaks through – and that is the case with Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s Rewind – a film in which he went through hundreds of hours of his old home movies – shot either by his father, Henry, or sometimes himself, to tell the story of cyclical child abuse that the family suffered through. This is a hard sit to be sure – but Neulinger amazingly has some clarity in which to view these events. He knows the little boy in those videos – who often acted over the top, or lashed out, is in so much pain.
The movie takes its time revealing the abuse that will be at the center of the film – probably about 30 of the 90 minutes is spent with the audience in the dark of just what is going to happen – although it’s clear from the start that something bad has. Eventually, it will snap into focus, and become the focal point of the film.
That is because when he was a child, Sasha was sexually abused by three different family members – his two uncles, Howard and Larry, and Larry’s oldest son Stewart, who was in his 20s at the time. Sasha held his secrets close to him as a child – until he figured out that at some of what was happening to him, was also happening to his younger sister, Bekah, and he revealed enough for his parents to figure it out. And then, the whole can of worms is spilled. Henry isn’t shocked by the revelations – because Larry and Howard had done the same thing to him as a child. He just assumed it was a one off, and he never talked about it to anyone. Not all the abuse is the same – Larry and his son, it is figured, do it out of so misguided attempt to find and express love. Howard is more violent – and is about the need for dominance. It is all abuse, all traumatic and scarring – but it’s different.
Making matters worse is that while Larry and Stewart get their legal cases resolved quickly – varying degrees of jail time is assessed; Howard fights it for years. He is a cantor at a major synagogue in Manhattan – and has powerful, rich friends, so can afford to fight it for years, through motion after motion. And poor Sasha has to relive it again and again, as he keeps having to explain to different people what happened.
Neulinger’s film does a lot of things. Yes, it tells this harrowing story, from a first-person perspective – including in depth interviews with both of his parents, who reveal their own pain at going through what they did – that among other things ended their marriage. But it’s also a close-up study of the home videos themselves – and how you need to look past the surface, to see the truth underneath. As Henry says, you don’t bring out the camera for sad occasions – but happy ones. So there is footage of Sasha, and his abusers that you sit and watch, and try to parse out any hidden meanings that may be buried there.
I do think that ending isn’t quite as strong as the beginning and middle. By the end, the film has settled into a more standard “issue” documentary, making pleas from changes to laws, etc. and advocating a specific position – which while certainly important, it isn’t very different from what we’ve seen in many other child abuse documentaries. What’s special here really is seeing through the eyes of the abused what happened – and then being able to see the aftereffects, right there in old home movies, which were supposed to be of happy times – but ending up capturing the exact opposite.

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