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Originally published Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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'Photographic Memory': images that bind director and his son

A review of the documentary "Photographic Memory," which captures filmmaker Ross McElwee's changing relationship with his son, Adrian, now in his 20s.

The New York Times

Movie review

'Photographic Memory,' a documentary directed by Ross McElwee, from a screenplay by McElwee and Marie-Emmanuelle Hartness. 87 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In English and French, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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How accurate is your memory as you get on in years? How much do old home movies and vintage photographs reveal about the past? Or does the process that the filmmaker Ross McElwee calls decontextualization, in which the picture remains while the circumstances surrounding it are forgotten, erase its significance? What, if anything, do these reflections have to do with digital versus film photography?

These questions strike at the heart of McElwee's latest documentary, "Photographic Memory." If you obsessively record your life, as McElwee, 65, has done, such questions loom large. If, like McElwee, you have children whose activities you record from Day 1, these questions challenge the validity of your work.

The most vivid strand of "Photographic Memory" is McElwee's changing relationship with his son, Adrian, now in his 20s. Adrian, shown at different ages in the film, was a charming, curious child, but he became guarded and sardonic as a teenager and began skipping school and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

As a young adult, Adrian is extremely creative. From McElwee's worried perspective, he is also confused and "in a state of technological overload."

The core of the film is McElwee's trip to France. This journey brings McElwee to a village where he lived 38 years ago. By revisiting a scene from his youth, McElwee explains, he hopes it will help him better understand his son at the same age. But the concept seems contrived and halfhearted.

What doesn't feel forced are McElwee's thoughts on aging, the passing of time and his sense of falling behind in an era of accelerated technological development.

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