Around the World When You Were My Age

 

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A decidedly unorthodox documentary but one with a voice of its own.

 
Around the World When You Were My Age
   

The streaming of this film by MUBI comes under the heading of 'Undiscovered'. That's fair since this is the first full length feature from Aya Koretzky and her earlier work has not been seen here. It is indeed worth discovering because this highly original documentary has a character all of its own. On paper it sounds likely to be a relatively conventional work, one in which the focus is on a journey undertaken by the filmmaker's father, Jiro, who, in 1970 at the age of thirty, left Japan to travel round Europe, North Africa, and the Near and Middle East. It may not have been quite the world trip promised by the title even if he returned by way of America, but it took 320 days and was a remarkable enterprise for a young man mainly travelling alone (for a while he would fall in with a compatriot encountered in Germany and share his somewhat unreliable car).

 

What we see on screen utilises pictures taken by Jiro at that time and also features at some length voice-over comments taken from the diary that he kept then. In addition, there is also substantial recent footage shot by Aya Koretzky herself, this mainly in Portugal which has become her own home and where her father has lived for some twenty-five years now. However, the way in which this material has been assembled is anything but traditional. Although Aya asks questions of her father touching, for example, on his fascination with plants (as a young man he had studied landscape architecture) and requesting him to comment on his failing eyesight, the film largely ignores full-scale biographical details. Nevertheless, late on Jiro does recall his childhood and the horror faced by his family when napalm bombs fell on Tokyo in 1945. Certain aspects of the film seem mysterious indeed: it is some time before Aya reveals that Jiro is her father and questions such as "Where do you live now?" are asked as though she does not know the answer. Although we learn that Jiro's limited sight now prevents him from reading his diary, we do hear extracts throughout delivered by a male voice-over which may or may not be his own. Furthermore, the striking images taken by Jiro nearly fifty years ago include many slides which you would expect to see vertically but which are shown to us sideways on with no adjustment to fit in with the numerous horizontal images which he took.

 

All of this makes for a film that in its oddity is less than satisfying, but Around the World When You Were My Age is also off-beat in a genuinely haunting way. The images from 1970 and 1971 offer nostalgic impressions of many countries and of major cities while the manner in which the voice-over comments are heard against material not always an obvious fit is itself an indication that the film is in its own way experimental. It's an atmospheric work often slow in pace and, while it turns to such composers as Bach and Chopin for background music, it has a character that seems quintessentially Japanese. Father and daughter may ask to what extent they remain truly Japanese after their years in Portugal but, when the various townscapes yield to views of trees and nature, a work that is already poetic in tone takes on an extra quality of meditative contemplation which is itself a reflection of an outlook that one identifies with their home country. Sometimes profound yet in other respects superficial, this film may meet with a very mixed response, but it won the prize for best debut feature at the 2019 International Film Festival in Rotterdam.

 

Original title: A Volta ao Mundo Quando Tinhas 30 Anos.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Jiro Koretzky, Aya Koretzky.

 

Dir Aya Koretzky, Pro Joana Ferreira and Isabel Machado, Screenplay Aya Koretzky and Jiro Koretzky, Ph Aya Koretzky, Ed Tom├ís Baltazar.

 

Crim Productions-MUBI.
110 mins. Portugal. 2018. Rel: 24 May 2020. Available on MUBI. No Cert.