Note – I do think this film is better experienced BEFORE being read about. This applies to most films really, but I think Still Processing especially should be viewed first due to its approach to its very raw, emotional themes.
“I know I can’t make up for the loss. But maybe together we can remember.”
Still Processing, as magnificent and as forward thinking as it is, is really, really difficult to watch. Not in the usual way I’d say this – not because it is particularly intellectually testing, or because it is uninteresting – but because it is just emotionally crushing at many points throughout. Sophy Romvari’s last film, In Dog Years (one of my favourite short films of 2019) was similar in its delicate mixing of sadness and the beauty of undying love, but here it seems to take on another form entirely. Turning the camera onto herself, and managing to muster up the bravery to allow herself to be truly vulnerable on screen in this autobiographical documentary, Romvari strips back the documentary form to serve her story in the most suitable way.
Focusing on simplicity, the film follows Romvari’s (and her families’) struggles with grief after the death of two of her brothers, David and Jonathan, and looks at how family, the camera/art in general and love all connect, but also how pain can’t help but be intertwined in all of the above. For Romvari, these connections are really quite close, seeing as her father studied cinematography (even if he never practiced it after her family immigrated) and the archival pictures of her family clearly show that they were used to pictures and used to being on camera (it is mentioned early on in the letter from Sophy’s parents), and how many of these childhood pictures are now the primary remaining physical reflection of her brothers (at least, the primary one shown in the film).
As the letter states early on in the film when it is first shown, the pictures weren’t taken with any grand artistic intention or really any intention at all, they were just attempts to “capture the moment and then, as a true procrastinator, put them away”. However, by taking these pictures, the memories that align with them are frozen in time and made concrete. In her film, Sophy does the same by allowing the camera to, for the most part, take a step back and to observe those involved. I can’t help but also think of the idea of the camera lasting forever here – these pictures have immortalised those who have passed on, and in making a film about this, there is the suggested statement that there is a wish for Sophy to also be immortalised by what she creates with the same equipment – the camera. Or at the very least, there is the want to trap these emotions, to ‘capture the moment’, for the sake of reflection in the future whether this be intended for Sophy herself or for those who know her.
The use of soundtrack is also captivating. The fact that the majority of the film was solely diegetic meant that any moment with music stood out much more than it typically would, and I’d never have expected to be made as sad (tearful, even) as I was by the cover (by third brother Ben, who appears in the film during one segment where Sophy watches home videos with him) of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends, a song that concludes with the lines:
“Long ago it must be,
I have a photograph,
Preserve your memories,
They’re all that’s left you.”
Evidently, the song shares Sophy’s viewpoint on the power possessed by the camera. The camera immortalises, and though many complain about taking pictures of the mundane as they feel it strips it of its beauty, I think the very opposite – it effectively cages the beauty and holds onto it forever.
It was also difficult not to admire the clear imbalance of emotions throughout. I’m not so sure that it was all intended (with the scene in the dark room, for example. I imagine it’s a mundane place for Sophy, maybe a calming one, but the harsh red made me feel the opposite, interestingly) but there is always one overwhelming emotion that seizes control of its scene, and is often faced with battling its opposing emotion. For a film focused on grief, this one feels as hopeful for the future as it does upsetting, especially in its ending which I shan’t spoil.
This focus on the future also loops back to these focuses on the camera and on immortality through art. The film shots are eventually taken from their physical versions and transformed into shots projected from a MacBook, and it is as if the pictures have been renewed in a way, even if they haven’t actually changed at all visually. Technology, both in form of the camera that initially took these pictures and the MacBook that allows these same pictures to survive in a new form, is clearly playing a key role in how people can now access their own past, and in this case, their own grief. The same idea also applies to the digital home movies that Sophy watches with Ben.
For such a personal film, Romvari’s vulnerability is also surprisingly universal. By showing these moments of openness in wide open frames as they occur, the documentary opens itself up to being relatable to all despite the fact that it is focused on the story of a single family (from one perspective mostly, the letter from Sophy’s parents and the pictures being the exceptions, as well as the interview with Ben). It’s a film bound to touch the soul of most anybody who sees themselves in any of the experiences that Sophy hones in on throughout because of this bravery to be open with the camera, just as a child would be.
This film is still quite difficult to talk about, mainly due to the intimacy of it. It’s not hard to imagine the kind of catharsis going on behind the scenes even right now. But it is in the duality shared between the regrets of the past mentioned in the film and the hopes for the future that also lets the audience share this feeling. Still Processing is one of the most beautifully touching films of recent memory, and it is one that works so well because of its bravery in presenting grief exactly as it is, not being afraid of or avoiding anything. Romvari is just brilliant at evoking emotion, whether it comes through her choices of soundtrack, her delicate yet focused framing, the scarcely used subtitles from Sophy or… anything else in this case. It’s hard to believe that such a film is able to exist, but anyone who comes in touch with it will likely find themselves deeply moved by its honesty and transparency in dealing with one of the toughest of all emotions. I don’t imagine I’ll see a more touching film released this year, or for quite some time. Still Processing is able to dominate emotionally whilst still focusing on what is ultimately the tale of a single family, and it is just beautifully emotional.