LFF 2019: Rewind Review
The journey Sasha Joseph Neulinger takes throughout Rewind (2019) is fascinating to watch unfold, his bold decision to candidly re-explore his devastating past turning this into a particularly raw and powerful documentary. Yet what makes Rewind really impactful is the home videos he uses to tell it, the footage of birthdays, celebrations and happy family life (all of which was filmed by his father over the years) delving right to the heart of Neulinger’s childhood, while also looking back on a shocking truth that even cameras couldn’t capture.
With hundreds of hours of home videos at his disposal - his father was rarely without a camera glued to his hand, much to his wife’s dismay - Neulinger takes the time to set out his story, allowing us to get to know his family and their background, as well as the early years of his upbringing. Mixing in the usual talking heads, mostly from his mother and father (interviews that are truly captivating, especially later on in the documentary), we hear how happy Neulinger was when he was younger – a bright, content kid who wanted nothing more than to spend time with his friends, parents and little sister.
But gradually this happiness seems to melt away, Neulinger’s cheery demeanour becoming increasingly haunted throughout the home videos, the child seeming to be somewhere else in his mind, even when he’s staring right into the camera. It’s heartbreaking to see, his parents detailing how confused they were by the change in their son, his suddenly erratic behaviour difficult to cope with. Yet, even as things begin to take a turn for the worse, we can’t help but be reeled in by the grimy picture Neulinger paints, the intriguing hints he drops early on keeping us guessing right up until he reveals the full, unthinkable truth.
Although such a trick is in danger of sensationalising the whole story, in Neulinger’s hands it becomes utterly compelling, his direction steadily building up the tension alongside Avela Grenier’s exquisite editing, while the transition to darker territory creeps in almost insidiously (reflecting the way Neulinger’s own life fell apart). When Neulinger does lay his cards on the table at the film’s halfway point, the reveal is so disarming and unexpected that it almost takes your breath away, especially when we hear how deep it really goes. However, even more disturbing is how this reveal suddenly forces us to view the home videos differently throughout the rest of the film, Neulinger often repeating earlier footage to allow us see it in a whole new light, making us question how we never noticed what was there all along. Or maybe (as Neulinger also hints), sometimes people just don’t want to see what’s right there in front of them.
It’s an engaging filmmaking method, and one that Neulinger uses to take back control of a past he never had a hand in making at the time. Seeing him gradually coming to terms with it all is phenomenal, his open and honest way of approaching the subject matter courageous and downright inspirational, especially when he delves further into the aftermath and how it affected other members of his family.
In particular, his discussions with his father and sister are riveting yet incredibly moving, the documentary acting as a cathartic release for both of them too. But what is most surprising about Rewind is how uplifting it can be at times, Neulinger keen to show us the positives that have emerged from such a terrifying ordeal. From the powerful feeling of reclaiming his voice, to the work he now does to help people in similar situations, to the laws that have since changed for the better, Rewind ends on a hopeful note, Neulinger daring to believe that by speaking out, he’ll motivate others to do the same. As such, this is an important documentary, and one that looks to the future as much as it does to the past.
Rewind plays the BFI London Film Festival