In his latest ultra-low-budget feature, Zachary Oberzan has undertaken a sort of microcosmic and deeply personal Up series examining brotherhood, memory, time, and loss — as well as both the cultural significance of Jean Claude Van Damme’s riveting performance in Kickboxer and the 1978 cult classic trashfest Faces of Death. Originally a mixed-media theater piece, Your brother. Remember? is a film that’s been 20 years in the making. It’s also one of the greatest uses of a medium to parse both itself and its maker that I’m aware of. Blending joyous humor with weary regret and contrasting hilariously ludicrous action with crushing emotional paralysis, Oberzan has created something genuinely sui generis and thoroughly entertaining. Once again, this fearless director has transcended monetary and technical limitations to rouse his audience.
Right around 1990, Oberzan and his brother Gator filmed imaginative reenactments of their favorite scenes from Kickboxer and Faces of Death. These somewhat grainy, poorly-lit VHS recordings capture a uniquely adolescent exuberance that’s immediately recognizable to most anyone who grew up with access to a shitty camcorder. The teenage brothers’ obsession with action and death is on full display, and it’s difficult not to crack a smile when you see their beaming faces as they stumble through already terribly-wrought lines from both Van Damme’s breakthrough film in Kickboxer and Dr. Francis B. Gröss’ macabre admonitions in Faces of Death. Shot in and around their childhood home in Maine, Zachary and Gator’s early homages to JCVD/death contain some of the same energy and composition that would inform Oberzan’s masterwork (and #8 on TMT’s 2010 film list), Flooding With Love For The Kid (TMT Review).
Twenty years later, Oberzan went back to Maine and re-shot as many of his and Gator’s early imitations as possible, this time meticulously recreating their recreations to such an extent that the accidental, trivial gestures made in 1990 are central to the 2010 versions, as we see through Oberzan’s meticulous splicing together of clips from his source material and both sets of recreations. For instance, the fact that they placed 8.5x11 sheets of paper on some drab wall to fill in for the trees in Kickboxer isn’t glossed over in the Oberzan boys’ 2009 versions.
In the intervening two decades between their early first attempts and their semi-middle-aged second takes, Oberzan became an actor/musician/filmmaker, while Gator went to prison and became addicted to hard drugs, as Oberzan recounts through slapstick musical interludes. When the two brothers get back together to remake their remakes, the divergence of their lives is always in sharp relief, while the two of them get back into character as if nothing had happened. It’s the attempt to completely negate the reality of their actual lives that makes their filmic legacy so damned compelling; the two of them act as much as possible like nothing tragic ever happened between the end of Reaganomics and the dawn of the Obama presidency.
Your brother. Remember? shares many formal similarities with Mark Rappaport’s 1995 film, From the Journals of Jean Seberg, as well as Rappaport’s preoccupation with memory and repetition. Oberzan makes it abundantly clear that he realizes how much sadness resides in the distance between his fraternal teenage flights of fancy and his current, very real desire to alleviate some of the fucked up things that have happened between then and now. Oberzan’s latest work does something that all of us deep down can appreciate: it elucidates grand themes and reveals profound truths about character, and yet it’s completely lacking in self-consciousness. The drab lighting, lack of props, and lack of polished talent all complement the subject matter perfectly — there’s a courage here that nearly baffles the informed mind. How refreshing it is to witness the work of one so willing to completely embrace those heartfelt pubescent attempts at artistry. How grand. How humbling?