Rewind—probably the best documentary playing at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival—opens simply. Jacqui, the mother of a child named Sasha, recounts her husband Henry arriving late to the birth of their son after buying a camcorder. Set in an idealized home, Henry assumes the role of a manically obsessive Richard Dreyfus-esque father figure, vicariously relating to his children through a video camera. Sasha—a once “intense, focus, and joyful” child—descends into an increasingly uncontrollable hot-tempered state.
If Rewind weren’t a documentary, it’d be accused of aping Spielberg. But director Sasha Joseph Neulinger‘s film isn’t Spielberg (at least, not on the surface). No, Rewind takes unnerving and improbable twists in a horrific story of trauma and self-recovery that’ll emotionally decimate its audience in the span of its 86 minutes.
Rewind‘s initial family drama—displaying a unit of hilarity and closeness with unknown fissures—recedes with each alarming detail. There are the three brothers: Henry, Larry, and Howard (a well-known religious Cantor) — each vying for the attention of their difficult-to-please mother. There’s the dissolving marriage between Henry and Jacqui, Larry’s son who’s essentially homeless after serving in the Air Force, and Sasha’s sister Bekah: appearing despondent much of the time.
Most of the film’s first half-an-hour provides a gripping, but impenetrable mystery. Even the young Sasha, the film’s main focus, gradually displays an “unhinged” and unstable personality—exhibiting suicidal tendencies. Through inter-cutting the now-adult Sasha, explains how his current VHS home video project represents a method for moving forward. The camera then flashes to a label slid across one of those tapes saying, “Never erase, or record over. Ever. Ever. Ever.” Neulinger’s film, like any great documentary, maintains a steady drip of details whose importance are only revealed later.
Said puzzle remains incomplete, until the shock arrives of Sasha’s long-term sexual abuse, a revelation whose already seismic details provide far-reaching implications throughout the entirety of the documentary. The rest of Rewind recounts the investigation and prosecution of his abuser(s), while the adult Sasha pieces together missed signs with his parents. There are intense moments of therapeutic walk-throughs with his father, of flipping through pages of insane and abstract crayon drawings by Sasha with his former-psychiatrist Dr. Herbert Lustig, and the VHS footage itself (which becomes all the more infuriating, morose, and heartbreaking as each new revelation comes to light).
In fact, even when the startling details of Sasha’s abuse dominates the film, Rewind never ceases to remind us of the enormous personal psychological recovery occurring in front of our eyes. Because Sasha’s nightmare doesn’t end when the abuse stops. No, said horrors continue long after because of how sexual-abuse cases are handled. They continue long after because of the weight said abuse puts upon his family—and they continue long after because of the tremendous courage he displays when he testifies against those who have hurt him.
It’s long been speculated by many, including Spielberg himself, that his child-driven narratives are in themselves attempting to psychologically treat a tumultuous childhood through the lens of the camera. Neulinger’s film attempts to accomplish the same, though through less obviously saccharine methods associated with the famed-director. Instead, Neulinger obstacles are far graver than any Spielberg hero. And when the conclusion of his immaculate documentary arrives—Rewind not only offers the story of a victim’s ordeal—but a brave and resilient spirit.
Image courtesy of John Solem