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Sex Abuse, Lies and Videotape

BFI London Film Festival 2019

Rewind (2019)

It’s a fascinating fact of human nature that people need to document their lives, the good parts and the awful. It’s even more fascinating that the urge to document can surmount almost anything – such as, for example, how the father of director Sasha Joseph Neulinger missed his son’s birth because he was out buying a video camera. That video camera is the key to “Rewind,” because the family dynamic it captured are absolutely crucial to the story that it tells.

This is an unusual documentary because Mr. Neulinger is also its subject. Or rather, the subject of the movie is what happened to him when he was a boy, which was the brutal sexual abuse he was subjected to by multiple members of his father Henry’s family. The old footage is able to show this was able to happen under the nose of his capable and loving mother Jacqui. But the historical footage is only part of it. The most dramatic parts are the conversations Mr. Neulinger has with his parents, in which he refers to himself in the third person, and the horrific family secrets those conversations reveal.

Once the abuse became known, the family moved with all speed and diligence to protect Mr. Neulinger and his sister, and to attempt to achieve justice. About half of the film is devoted to exploring how the justice system worked, or did not, in the cases of the different perpetrators. Mr Neulinger’s former psychiatrist, public prosecutors, and the police officers who handled his case open their files so that we can see drawings and letters written by him as a child, and explain how they helped prepare Mr. Neulinger for court. The recollection of Mr. Neulinger’s major court appearance reduces his doctor to tears. Young Mr. Neulinger's courage was and remains incredible.

Mr. Neulinger has the directorial skill to handle the story in what feels like an objective fashion. But the movie elides his teenage years, which rather implies the problems ended with the court case, which of course cannot possibly be true. We also learn only the barest outline of his life as an adult, except to make clear the movie’s purpose. It is designed to explain to professionals working with children what the signs of abusers and abuse are, and children’s understanding of what is happening to them, up to and including suicidal ideation. Mr. Neulinger’s had his whole life to prepare this, and it’s a testament to his personal bravery that it’s not the story of his life, but of something that happened to him. It’s an upsetting and important film.


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