Rewind - LFF 2019
Directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Recently we have seen a trend of these reflective, but not nostalgic, personal life documentaries. They are directed and told from the point of view of the individuals who endured the often harsh subject matter. Sadly, more often than not, they have focused in on stories of great trauma and abuse. Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s Rewind is such a film. The sexual abuse he suffered as a pre-pubescent child is interrogated and laid bare before our eyes through the unique insight of home movie footage and interviews with those closest to him at the time. It is a bold and brave film which goes a step further than many other documentaries have done dealing with this controversial topic.
We’re introduced to Sasha, age 5 or 6, through the lens of his father Henry’s video camera. Instantly we are cast back to the mid 90s. A time when it seemed that everyone and their brother had a video camera and intended to use it to chronicle every mundane detail of their family lives! To the families in the footage, they might one day be deemed cherished memories. Sadly that wasn’t to be the case for Sasha, his sister and their parents. As the camera focuses in on the smiling and playful antics of Sasha’s larger-than-life uncle’s Larry and Howard, a more sinister reality begins to unravel. Both Howard and Larry (and Larry’s son Stewart) had begun sexual abusing Sasha and his sister Becca. This went on more often than not in the family home. Their parents were completely unaware and so the camera kept rolling on the good times downstairs, while the most unspeakable acts were committed in an upstairs bedroom.
Sasha, now approaching 30, holds no ill will towards his parents. Rather he uses the documentary to explore their feelings, emotions and thoughts at the time when the truth finally came out. Their stories are heartbreaking but also alarmingly identifiable. Sasha’s mother asks him why he didn’t tell her about the abuse as soon as it began. He replies “because as soon as I came down the stairs with my abuser the first thing you did was throw your arms around him, hug him and offer him some food”. Horrendous for a child, unable to process the existence of evil, in a home that is supposed to be protective and loving.
Sasha’s psychiatrist Herbert Lustin relives their therapy sessions, giving way to some of the most upsetting moments of the documentary. The worst of these are the childhood drawings Sasha and his sister did to explain what their uncle’s were doing to them. The graphic acts they depict are all the harder to bear witness to given the innocently simplistic way they have been etched. It’s crushing to see the childish Porky Pig catchphrase “That’s all folks” scrawled over some of the most sickeningly violent and perverse acts that a child should never have to draw let alone experience.
Throughout we are peppered with photographs and home movie footage. Reminding us of the normal and care-free homelife this family seemed to enjoy. But it becomes very clear that this is all performance. The silly acts, the laughing, the singing, the joy is all a cover for one great big terrible secret they share. This becomes all the more crushing when a revelation takes place about halfway through the documentary, reminding us of the terrible pervading nature of sexual abuse.
What’s most striking about the documentary is the examination of the extended family dynamic around it. Sasha’s grandparents on both sides play a crucial role in the morality of the tale. Sometimes for the bad, but pleasingly, often for the better. His grandfather’s on both sides are inspiring figures who offer hope and respite from painful paths, not just for Sasha but for his father too. For this tale of abuse goes further and deeper than the immediate. Emasculation, overwhelming negativity and judgemental environments collide to create a desperately sad and traumatic family dynamic. But hope was there. Amidst that poisonous environment lay loving and decent family members. Grandparents are so incredibly influential, sometimes more so than parents. Indeed there could be no better tribute to their love, than the dedication to his maternal grandparents Sam and Ellie Neulinger in the closing credits.
The final act, naturally, gives way to the more procedural judiciary aspect to the abuse and its fallout. As always, these aspects are far less compelling than the emotional and personal heart of such stories. That being said it is important to see the consequences, both good and bad, of what took place to Sasha as a young child. You will be left with a bittersweet taste by journey’s end. One thing that will endure is the film’s exploration of the beauty of love and kindness within a family and how it can truly conquer all, no matter how deeply-rooted the evil.