Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | May 27th, 2020
Around the World When You Were My Age (“A Volta ao Mundo Quando Tinhas 30 Anos”) (Aya Koretzky, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.
Winner of the 2019 Bright Future Competition (awarded to a promising first-time feature-documentary director) at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Around the World When You Were My Age follows director Aya Koretzky’s father, Jiro, on the journey he took from Japan in 1970, when he was 30. It is a voyage both geographic and spiritual, as the exposure to different cultures and landscapes profoundly changed the man, so much that he eventually, years later, settled in Portugal, where he has now lived for the past 25 years. Aya Koretzky, herself, was raised mostly near Lisbon, is bilingual and cannot, according to her own voice, read Japanese (though she speaks it well enough with the now septuagenarian Jiro throughout the film). Combining archival photographs, conversations between her and Jiro, voiceover from an actor reading Jiro’s diary, modern-day Super 8 footage and playful recreations (also shot on Super 8), Koretzky creates a personal meditation on the mind-opening wonder of travel and the glories of the variegated human experience.
The entire film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, with the four corners rounded as they would be in a Super 8 projector, the better to cast the unfolding footage as a heightened home movie. Indeed, Koretzky’s careful curation of the audio-visual aspect of the documentary are as much part of the narrative as the ostensible story, itself (which unfolds in a manner sometimes linear, sometimes circular, and always elliptical). The most evocative of her techniques is her choice to make the position of each photograph reflect the dimensions of the frame, rather than of the original image, resulting in at least half the images shown in the wrong orientation: the vertical is on its side, forcing the viewer to turn their head. Though initially confusing, this method forces one to focus intently on what’s on-screen.
As does the sound design, which alternates between a richly textured audio tapestry of ambience, music, dialogue and effects to pure silence, that sudden quiet cutting in like a brutal interruption to one’s dreamlike state. We listen, then listen some more, just as we gaze in rapt attention at the beautiful compositions, throughout. This holds true for the cleverly staged footage, as well, both of Jiro today in his Portuguese garden and of seeming flashbacks. Every picture, still or moving, is beautifully crafted.
Despite these distinct and appealing qualities, the documentary, almost too contemplative for its own good, drags in places. Perhaps it would be best to watch in intervals, like a gently unfolding series of brief episodes, much as Jiro’s trip through the Soviet Union, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East proceeded, each stage recorded in writing and, now, spoken word, like chapters in a momentous saga. Engage with it as collection of short stories, then, and it is sure to seep into your consciousness. Even without that approach, it still affects one as a profound testament to the power of exploration and reflection.
[Starting on May 28, Around the World When You Were My Age streams on MUBI USA for 30 days.]