With occasional reflection on the perpetual absurdity/intrigue of life and society in general.

Monday, July 6, 2015

First Cousin Once Removed - Documentary Film of Interest - Highly Recommended

I saw this film at the Virginia Film Festival nearly two years ago, followed by a Q&A with director Alan Berliner.  It is a Poignant, Poetic, Echoing meditation on memory, life, time and the personal, philosophical considerations of existence in the moment and reflections of the past.  Berliner's Q&A was a bonus and privilege - he paralleled the film with thoughtful, generous, sometimes ambiguous and emotionally complex responses and unsolicited shares.

At the time, the film was relatively early-on in it's initial festival run.  I was new to Charlottesville and the VA Film Festival (by which I have become increasingly impressed), but I was aware of Berliner through some of his earlier films, thanks to one of my favorite film professors/friend, which gratefully drew me to the screening.  The film has since received relatively wide critical acclaim, though still remains somewhat obscure.  It is now promoted, distributed and exhibited through HBO Documentaries (well deserved and hopefully opens a wide audience).

Extraordinary filmmaking and still resonating in my head. An honest, personal profile, not only of the life of a brilliant man, Honig (and the duality of that brilliance), in the depths of Alzheimer's, but of life in general.  Alzheimer's is rarely mentioned, but echoes through the film in abstract subtle trembles that are both haunting and oddly elating in life-affirmation. Truly unique, beautiful piece of work and experience, for the filmmaker and for us.  The most effective, expansive and broadly reflective documentary that I have seen in years. Highly recommended, to say the least.

Continue reading for complete Synopsis, Review and Trailer.

"Sometime in the new millennium, Edwin Honig—the distinguished poet, translator, critic and university professor—began showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which gradually but inexorably brought on the loss of his memory, command of language and relation to the past. Filmmaker Alan Berliner—for whom Honig was a cousin, a friend and a mentor—documented their meetings over five years; his new film chronicles the steady decline of Honig’s mind and body, but also the strength and stamina of his spirit, as well as his innate charm and wonderfully playful way with words and sounds. Occasional moments of lucidity offer an insight as to the ways in which Honig attempts to make sense out of what is happening to him. First Cousin Once Removed is an unflinching essay on the fragility of being human, and a stark reminder of the profound role that memory plays in all of our lives."

By Eric Kohn

Documentarian Alan Berliner is frequently the focus of his movies, but his intentions extend beyond his neuroses. Rather than the star of the show, he's a vessel for bigger ideas and evades the perils of self-indulgence that could result from putting himself in front of the camera.
That tricky balance is on display better than ever in the stirring "First Cousin Once Removed," which deepens an oeuvre that has already dealt with the tender issues of father-son relationships ("Nobody's Business") and insomnia ("Wide Awake") by exploring his fears of senility to devastating effect. Using a powerful focal point to manifest the movie's central concerns, Berliner makes his interest in the topic relevant to everyone.
His case study is Edwin Honig, the first cousin of Berliner's mother, a bond that gives the movie its title. But there's more about Honig -- once a world-class poet and founder of Brown University's creative writing program -- that has been removed beyond his relationship to the filmmaker. Suffering from Alzheimer's disease before the movie begins, Honig has lost grasp of his identity or any firm understanding of his relationships to those around him. Still haunted from his own father's death from the disease, Berliner sets out to understand the nature of Honig's increasing frailty by working to unlock the older man's dwindling memories.
Equal parts psychological mystery and lyrical treatise on the passage of time, "First Cousin Once Removed" predominantly centers on Berliner's interrogation of Honig in his Rhode Island home during various stages of his condition (the specific chronology remains unclear). From the outset, Berliner utilizes an aggressively fractured narrative that replicates his subject's state of confusion by showing the filmmaker arriving at Honig's home several times in succession with various results: Sometimes Honig recognizes his relative, and other times Berliner only gets a blank stare. But in even when he lacks complete lucidity, Honig still has the capacity to grapple with his deteriorating state. "I know there's a past and I know that I lived it," he said, leaving much else up for discussion.  
Continue reading:  Indiewire Review

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