Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Films of Jonathan Caouette

It was probably 4-5 years ago that I first watched the film "Tarnation" directed by Jonathan Caouette.  I don't normally cry during movies, but I cried during that one.  It's a documentary about Jonathan's life assembled from over 20 years of home movies, beautifully chronicling his life and the life of his strange family, with all its pain and triumph.

Jonathan's father left before he was born, his mother suffers from mental illness, and so he was raised by his grandparents, who were not ideal parents.  Jonathan was an emotionally disturbed child, and his means of outlet and expression were the films he began making as a child, and continued to make throughout his life.

The film is brutally honest, showing his own struggle with mental illness, his love for his mother, and the power of art to make sense of the bewildering pain of life.  As someone who suffers from the same metal illness as Jonathan, depersonalization disorder, I found the film to be strangely comforting and inspiring.  It showed me that, despite inner suffering and confusion, art can be a means of understanding and healing.

Tarnation was a critically acclaimed film, winning several international awards, and that fact is also inspiring to me because he basically made it himself with home movie equipment and edited it with iMovie, a very basic video editing program which I also use.  I'm currently working on a documentary film using a cheap video camera and iMovie.  If Jonathan cam make such a beautiful film from such crude materials, maybe I can too.  I feel compelled to try.

Last night, I watched Jonathan's latest film, "Walk Away Renee," which is basically a sequel to "Tarnation," and focuses on his relationship with his mother Renee, whom he must continuously help find places to live and receive treatment, on account of her mental illness.  Like Tarnation, it is fiercely honest, showing his mother's difficulty just to live a stable life.  Despite his own inner problems, Jonathan finds himself in the position of a caregiver of his mother, and this is difficult and painful.

Ultimately, however, the film is a triumph of love and beauty, despite everything.  Their lives are weird and tormented and difficult.  If you or a loved one suffers from a mental illness (or any kind of debilitating condition), the film is a revelation, an illumination of the power of art and love to confront and deal with the past, present, and future, to find the hidden heart of love amidst life's bewildering pain.

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