The Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival opens on October 27 with Nisha Platzer’s first-ever feature film, back home—a documentary that sees the director attempting to reconnect and understand her brother, Josh, who took his own life twenty years ago at the age of fifteen. We often look to documentaries for answers—focusing on clear narratives with solid premises and conclusions; however, Platzer’s film reminds us that the journey is sometimes the answer. How does one find closure? Can a parent, a sister, a best friend, truly ever have a final answer to their grief? This doc takes a brave look at the feelings we’re often too scared to truly process, and what we find can be more complex than anyone expected.
back home explores how Josh’s friends and family have been coping with their intense loss over the years, and celebrates the person he was and the love they still hold for him. It’s as much a celebration of the life he lived and the person he was, as it is about the end of his life and the consequences of his passing.
The film is an artistic combination of interviews, where the filmmaker reconnects with the chosen family and friends that Josh had, as well as old 16mm and Super8 footage that she uses in experimental ways, which gives back home a dreamlike, hazy feeling. Voiceover is not often paired with shots of the actual speaker. Instead, the director elects to show footage she captured in the past that emotionally resonates with the conversations she’s having. The video is often washed out, with soft focus and slow movements, with imperfections intentionally placed, pulling audiences into a raw, emotional world constructed lovingly.
According to Platzer, “The abstract film images represent the changing chemistry of Josh’s brain, as well as illustrating my physical pain—a manifest form of grief.” So it’s not surprising that pivotal emotional moments are often followed by an abstract, artistic sequence. These sequences give the audience time to process what they’re seeing and hearing, and lets them perhaps grapple with what’s resonating with them in their own mind. It gives viewers a moment to breathe, before drawing everyone back into the raw emotion of this surreal, artistic film.
The feelings evoked by this film are hard to capture in words; it’s not just a sad documentary, but also a healing work, a transformative piece—melancholic and celebratory. The feelings aren’t linear, but neither if the process of healing. It takes the audience from moments of celebrative talk of Josh, to talking about the night he died, all in a single conversation. The film echoes the complex ways that grief tears us from sadness at loss to the joy of remembered friendship and love.
Film often tries to give an impression of something, to convey feelings, and this documentary encapsulates grief in a way I didn’t know was possible. It extracts grief, in all its complexities and layers, into its essence and distills it into a beautiful, heart-wrenching film. I never knew Josh, but Platzer manages to make me grieve him and celebrate him in equal measure, leaving me feeling both impressively healed and raw.
back home is the opening night film at the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival on October 27. For More info and tickets, head here.