Review by Camden Ferrell
Our Time Machine had its premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival where it won the award for Best Cinematography in a Documentary Film. Since then, the movie has played at several other festival where it has received more accolades. Directed by Yang Sun and S. Leo Chiang, this movie uses the unique artistry of its subject to tell an emotional story about the connection between father and son.
Maleonn, a famous Chinese artist, decides to stage an ambitious piece of theater about memory, time, and fatherhood when he finds out his dad, a former Opera director, is suffering from dementia. We get to witness his creative process firsthand as he must deal with the financial demands of the play as well as his father’s worsening condition. This is a unique premise that benefits greatly from Maleonn’s work and his relationship with his father.
The documentary is executed very well, and it has a fair balance between footage from the play and from the domestic life of Maleonn. The narrative is cohesively structured, and it doesn’t confound or distract from the film’s main themes and messages. It’s a very well-made movie from veteran documentary filmmaker Chiang and newcomer Sun.
Maleonn is a fascinating artist, and he brings a lot of life to this film as its main subject. He has a fascinating way of letting his personality emanate through his creations. His parents are also very interesting, and his father has a lot of great moments relating to his experience as an opera director in China. They are entertaining subjects who all do a really great job of bringing some heart and character to the film.
One of the coolest parts of this movie comes from seeing Maelonn’s artwork. The movie shows us work from his career, and they are absolutely gorgeous. His photography pieces are visually stunning, and they have such a unique style that is unlike anything you have ever seen. It’s surrealist, it’s beautiful. This, along with the captivating puppet designs make this film a treat to fans of physical art.
In addition to the artwork, the cinematography is stunning throughout. The framing is immaculate and dazzling, and there are moments that are almost mesmerizing. While the film is undoubtedly brilliant on a superficial scale, there are still some flaws with the film. It sometimes meanders in parts of his domestic life that don’t feel as essential as other parts, and this can lead to some moments feeling a bit unbalanced. However, this is a minor flaw that doesn’t detract much from the film.
This movie also boasts a strong heart at its foundation. Many of us can relate to the desire to preserve our memories with loved ones. While not everyone knows somebody close with dementia, there is definite human element to seeing the struggles of it on screen. The ways in which Maleonn mourns his father’s loss of memory while simultaneously celebrating his memory is equal parts heartbreaking and profound.
Our Time Machine is a unique and emotional experience about one son’s artistic pursuit in light of his father’s condition. It’s an intimate portrait of the inseparable bond between father and son that benefits from strong execution and a fascinating subject.
Our Time Machine will be available in virtual cinemas September 11. A list of participating theaters can be found here.