Sometimes it’s nice to just have a good cry at a movie, cathartic even; so with a quick Google for some of the saddest films ever made, followed by a little scrolling on Reddit, I came across this recommendation from Ubertraquer with the bold words “without a doubt the most tragic and heart wrenching film”.
This documentary follows filmmaker Kurt Kuenne as he writes a ‘letter’ to Zachary, detailing the life of his murdered father (Andrew Bagby), and the people he surrounded himself with. With the promise of being tragic, I was set with a box of tissues and a Hall and Oates album on standby if things became a little too much, yet I found something lacking.
I won’t spoil it, but if I were to tell you the entire story of Andrew Bagby, I’m sure I might elicit a tear or two, but watching this film I couldn’t quite bring myself to squeeze one out, so what stopped these tears from flowing here?
I’m not one to shy away from crying in a film. I mean you’re listening to someone who cried at the end of Toy Story 3, so I was expecting to be balling my eyes out, and this is what I think might have been the problem.
While desolate in story, the execution of this documentary felt quite different. Where Kuenne could’ve have easily turned this into a sob fest, playing on every emotional trigger known, he simply didn’t. Instead of focusing entirely on the bad, most of this film felt like a celebration of the life of Andrew, focusing on the lives of others he touched; this is made almost over abundantly clear at the beginning as we see something being dropped into a pond with the ripples of the water spilling out. This isn’t the only trope throughout the movie though - littered with record scratches and choppy editing, this feels like a very ‘homely’ movie, giving a much more intimate and personal feel to it. While some might argue this is poor filmmaking, it feels very much in the ‘spirit’ of what this film is trying to achieve.
This is an extremely personal film, and while watching it I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was intruding. This is not a film for a boy across the Atlantic to be watching slouched in bed, it simply doesn’t do it justice. This was a film made for the people that knew Andrew, and while it has many flaws, it tells an honest story about a tragic time in these people’s lives, and you can’t help but admire it for that.