Review by Sean Boelman
An intensely personal autobiography, Sasha Neulinger’s documentary Rewind is a documentary dealing with some very difficult subject matter. Yet even though it can be extremely difficult to watch at times, the catharsis it provided for its director is obvious, and as a result, it ends up being one of the most emotional films of the year as of yet.
In the movie, Neulinger takes a look back at his childhood by revisiting his father’s extensive collection of home videos, also causing him to reflect on the trauma he faced in his youth and still . For a story that is so clearly intimate, Neulinger does a great job of making his experiences relate to the greater issues in society which they reflect.
Neulinger’s story starts out as a relatively innocent exploration of his identity but turns into something much more urgent. By exploring his life with complete honesty and without pulling any punches, Neulinger’s story hits hard. And the statistics that are presented at the end of the film are both eye-opening and heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, many stories of victims and survivors of abuse sadly go unheard, and Neulinger’s story provides hope that those who are able to find their voice are not alone and have a support system that will be willing to help them understand their emotions in a more manageable way. Even though trauma can never be completely “fixed”, it can become more bearable.
The most effective moments in the movie are those that explore the way in which Neulinger processed his abuse as a child, because a majority of films about the topic address more about how people come to understand it when they are older. This brings the exploration of identity full-circle in a compelling way.
The only aspect of the film that Neulinger doesn’t fully develop is the role of his parents in the situation. The movie briefly talks about how they were shocked to discover what was happening, but it fails to really dive into the emotional consequences that it had on them. It certainly would have been interesting to hear more from their perspective.
This is Neulinger’s first foray in the director’s chair, and he is undeniably a very talented filmmaker. There is a subtle poeticism about the film and that allows its emotional impact to be a lot more understated and deep. The use of home videos is perfect, done in a way as to supplement his modern testimony.
Sasha Neulinger’s Rewind is not an easy watch, but it is a rewarding one. Few viewers will finish this documentary feeling anything less than moved by its depiction of strength in the face of extreme adversity.
Rewind hits VOD on May 8 and airs on PBS’s Independent Lens on May 10.