Argentine filmmaker/novelist Edgardo Cozarinsky delves into deeply personal territory with his cinematic essay addressed to his naval officer father, who died when his son was only twenty years old. Centering on his first-ever visit to his father’s birthplace, the rural farming community of Entre Rios, Letter to a Father is a poignantly moving documentary that traces the history of the region’s immigrant Jewish population as it examines the filmmaker’s own family history. The film recently received its North American premiere as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2015 Art of the Real film festival.
The film neatly interweaves the past and the present, showcasing old family photographs and letters, atmospherically lit by candlelight. Also showcased are postcards and souvenirs from his father’s wanderings, including a Japanese seppuku blade and a photograph of him taken when he was visiting MGM studios in Hollywood (we never learn exactly why he was there). There is audio commentary by elderly relatives, remembering both Cozarinsky’s parents and his Russian immigrant grandparents, with the latter colorfully referred to in the filmmaker’s narration as “Jewish gauchos.”
This poignant and incisive documentary represents filmmaking at its most personal.
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The modern-day region is populated by a vibrant Jewish community that clearly pays attention to its rich history, as evidenced by the several museums littering the countryside. Cozarinsky effectively connects the stories of his ancestors with his own experiences, including years spent self-exiled in Paris during the period in which Argentina was ruled by a military junta.
Gorgeously photographed and seamlessly composed, Letters to a Father doesn’t fully succeed in its goal of universalizing its personal story, and the lack of more contextual information occasionally proves frustrating. But it’s deeply moving nonetheless, never more so than when we see the filmmaker placing stones on the grave of his father who he barely got to know.
Production: Constanza Sanz Palacios Films
Director/screenwriter: Edgardo Cozarinsky
Producers: Edgardo Cozarinsky, Constanza Sanz Palacios
Director of photography: Lisandro Negromanti
Editor: Eduardo Lopez Lopez
Not rated, 65 min.