Thursday 28 May 2020

I travel: "Around the World When You Were My Age"

And the travelogues keep on coming. Around the World When You Were My Age finds documentarist Aya Koretzky asking her father Jiro to recall the details of a globetrotting trip he took at the beginning of the 1970s, when he left his Japanese homeland and struck out for Europe and points beyond. To achieve this, dad unearths a box containing photos and diaries he'd apparently buried in his back garden, then sits down and calmly, over the best part of two hours, talks his daughter - and us - through the contents. Quickly, it becomes clear Koretzky has a rich resource in those snapshots (corners rounded, their colours faded), using them to provide a bridging visual accompaniment not unlike the stills in certain Chris Marker projects as Jiro revisits his time in the Soviet Union and Scandinavia, his misadventures on the Frankfurt autobahn, his affection for the ornate paving stones in his adopted home of Portugal, his travels in Africa, the Middle East and the US. No movie on its own could make up for the stifling rottenness of the first five months of this year, but you might well find something romantic, consoling and/or aspirational in this man's mobility; at the very least, Koretzky has provided another reminder of the cinema's recurrent capacity to take us outside ourselves, to expand our horizons in some way.

A few minor caveats. This is by definition a dadtale - i.e. somewhat long-winded in the telling - and the overall dadness of the project is hardly dispelled by frequent cutaways to latter-day Jiro brewing up or mowing the lawn, nor by the occasional landscape photo presented in jarring portrait mode. (You half-expect the steady flow of images to be interrupted by a stray shot of Mrs. Jiro poolside in a bikini, as there would be with any slideshow in any 1970s sitcom: how did that get in there?) Yet the daughter's prompting reveals there is some urgency about this familial undertaking: Jiro's sight has begun to deteriorate. Those photos have thus been seized upon as memories that endured - and endure, now they've been preserved on celluloid. No mistaking the fact Jiro, who trained as a landscape architect, had an eye: you take away as much from an overview of hazy late-afternoon light falling on the Schönbrunn gardens (it could be a publicity still from the set of Last Year at Marienbad); from a textured close-up of the cracked marble adorning a bench in Barcelona; from the shot of a Moroccan walkway that could be a di Chirico etching. It makes for a slowburn watch, assiduously accumulating the 1,001 snapshots that help to make up a life; Koretzky's own imagery, meanwhile, makes its own case, both for the beauty of the countryside her father settled in, and that of her restless, thoughtful, poignantly solitary subject, at once alone on the road while at one with the landscape, wherever he roamed. As Jiro set out on his travels, I wondered whether the film had it within itself to make the giant leap from the personal to the universal. By the time the credits rolled, I was quietly moved.

Around the World When You Were My Age is now streaming via MUBI UK.

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