Westbrook [Alexander Kaluzhsky, USA, 2017]
Westbrook is a semi-autobiographical and experimental short film that quietly explores the fractured elements of the filmmaker’s own family history and memory, with the film’s protagonist (played by Alexander himself) attempting to reconcile the erosive relationship between himself and his parents. Shot mostly in black and white, Kaluzhsky applies a neat touch by interspersing the scenes in the present with colour footage shot from scattered moments of his childhood, subverting cinematic conventions of temporal representation.
After spending some time in his father’s bathroom freshening up, he wanders into the living room and flicks through family photos. Greeted by his father who still refers to him as “little boy”, Alexander ponders why he cannot remember any distinctive moments from his childhood. His father’s only consolation is that he tries not to remember his own. Later, during an awkward dinner, we witness a cold inquisition from Alex’s mother in regards to his wife’s absence from the visit, whilst warmly doting upon Charlie, the family pet.
These scenes are poignantly juxtaposed with old camcorder footage of young Alexander fearfully retreating from the path of the pointing lens, his father (behind the camera) asking the toddler at one point, “don’t you want to be on the TV?” He instead points the camera at Alexander’s sister who seems far more comfortable soaking up the attention of the camera and the rest of the family’s affectionate gaze. It’s a common motif within the film that gives us a clue into the potential origins of Alexander’s despair.
Westbrook is a self-reflective study on familial resentment and repression. It comes across as something of a confessional piece, perhaps a means to a therapeutic outlet, possibly a cry for help, but almost certainly a statement of existential anguish that will have you dusting off the old photo album on the next family visit.