BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: life through a lens.

ROSS MCELWEE’s particular brand of angst reaches its apogee in Time Indefinite. A mix of philosophical ruminations, self-deprecating humour, and personal filmmaking, Ross McElwee’s tragicomic documentary carries on the storylines he set up in his previous work. And while the film does drag at points near the end (you feel like you know him and his family really really well after seeing all these films), this is a poignant and wonderful piece of work.

Time Indefinite finds McElwee on the verge of marriage and fatherhood (as unlikely as it might seem), but his life seems to twist and turn from these idyllic beginnings. He’s at a family reunion, where he’s surrounded by a successful extended family, babies, and expectations. As the film progresses and he’s forced to deal with unexpected and moving circumstances. As he is forced to confront death, McElwee’s burns with trying to differentiate between real-life and art. At what point does his film prevent him from experiencing ‘real-life’? When should he turn off the camera? Charleen, the memorable English teacher who’s a recurring character in his films (and has experienced her own Southern Gothic experiences) implores him to turn off the camera. “This is real-life, not art!”

However, McElwee smiles back at Charleen with the film. In a Proustian way, real-life is preserved through art – his films become a container for soluble memory, a way in which his life is lived and made sense of. He lives as he films. This is further evident by McElwee’s use of past films and footage, found clips of parents and stock TV footage. His voiceovers have an ironic voice-of-god effect through which he comments on things just before they’re about to happen. (In effect, something which is ‘present’, is already past). Of course, McElwee masks these with his trademark humour, but the tone shifts are so wonderfully done that his films touch an unscripted raw sense of emotion. McElwee doesn’t seem to know how to end his film (but then you wouldn’t have expected a film about McElwee’s ‘real-life’ to be able to end so easily), and the continual philosophising about death could have been trimmed. But despite this, McElwee’s beautiful film manages to shift something that would be seen as highly personal and confessional into touching on wider fears and concerns.