History is not tangible. Despite out attempts to commemorate it with statues and monuments, it’s not a piece of concrete that multitudes can look upon with reasonable assurance that everyone is seeing the same thing. Instead, it’s a collection of memories, vaguely agreed upon. If that’s the case, can’t it be flexible, allowing for shifts that suit the moment? If a community collectively subscribes to the myth that a venerated jazz musician grew up on their streets, drawing the same pride and inspiration from the falsehood that they would if it were unquestionable truth, is there truly any difference in that resulting good spirit? That’s one of many playful notions weaved into Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind. The film begins with a simple, silly premise. After an industrial accident, depicted in almost cartoonish fashion, a local layabout becomes magnetized, causing him to inadvertently erase the entire stock of a video rental store still using VHS tapes. To cover up this problem, the store’s main employee enlists a few friends to recreate the missing films, subsequently renting out their ad hoc, homemade, truncated versions of Ghostbusters and Robocop. The low-budget copycat movies are very funny, and the film gets a lot of its energy from the travails of filming them. Gondry’s attention to this filmmaking process translates into a celebration of the thrill of creativity itself. It’s engaging, even inspiring to watch the growing cadre of guerrilla movie moguls come with inventive ways to duplicate well-known movies, and then take that same ingenuity into crafting their own original work. In that, Gondry’s film also serves as a tribute to the the dwindling value of neighborhoods. There is a sense, as the community bonds around this outdated business in their midst, that something meaningful is coming to a unfortunate, sadly under-mourned end. Even as Gondry is sentimental enough to allow this community one last tender triumph, he is honest enough to let it be tinged by wistful reality. On the surface, Be Kind Rewind may look like a mere goof, but it has an elegant, thoughtful soul.
(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)