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Noch einmal, June / June again

Director: JJ Winlove (Australia). Year of Release: 2021

June is at home, talking to her daughter. Or maybe she’s in a nursing home, talking to a doctor. Or joining in one of those horrible group singing sessions that’s supposed to bond patients together, although if it does, this is in a mutual regret that their once full lives have come to this. Whatever, the opening scenes give a good idea of the sheer confusion encountered by a person with dementia – no longer being able to grasp onto old certainties.

A doctor asks June to remember the three words Apple, Ball and Tree. He then holds up a pen and asks here what he’s holding in his hand. She doesn’t have a clue. He asks her for the words that he’d asked her to remember but she’s forgotten them all. She wanders towards the exit and asks the person on the door for the combination numbers required to unlock the door. He tells her, knowing full well that by the time she reaches the door she won’t remember what they are.

Then one day, June wakes up and promptly finishes the big crossword in the newspaper. She tells the doctor that that’s a pen and its Apple, Ball and Tree. She correctly identifies everyone on an old family photograph and their histories. Then she stages a jailbreak. The guy on the door tells her the numbers she needs to get out. She jumps into a taxi. The driver, an ex-con, takes pity on her and drives off, despite the doorman running desperately behind them.

Noch einmal, June (they’ve only got the German version running at the moment) is based on a great idea. If you’ve forgotten 5 years of your life, what would you do if you suddenly returned to lucidity, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before you lose your mind again? How quickly will delight at seeing your loved ones regress into old petty domestic disputes? (in this film, no time at all). It’s an interesting set up and after the opening scenes I was excited at what was to come.

June gets the taxi to stop at her old house. No-one is there but a young girl, playing the violin. It gradually becomes cleat that June’s kids have sold the house to someone else. This doesn’t stop June going into one of the bedrooms, looking round and taking some of the clothes. At first you think that the dementia is returning, but this is just the sort of person she is.

One by one, she meets up with her family – daughter Ginny, son Devon and grandson Piers (we’re in the sort of milieu where everyone has names like Ginny and Piers). Ginny and Devon have not spoken for 2½ years since he squandered their money on a pyramid scheme, and they had to sell the family business. Nonetheless, June invites them all to a family gathering, also inviting Devon’s ex-wife. When the camera pans out to reveal that she’s pregnant, everything falls apart.

I think that your general reception to the film will depend on your reaction to this great reveal. Noch einmal, June tries to build up great deprivations, but they are all middle class losses of possessions and status. Devon barely passed his architecture exams and is now working in a print shop, June’s old table has been scuffed a bit by Ginny’s kids, Devon’s chances of reigniting his marriage have been scuppered by his ex-wife expecting another man’s child.

Now it could be argued that the values being shown here do not belong to the film itself but to June, and that the film is satirising her acquisitiveness and obsession with social status. After all, what’s the big deal about working in a print shop? But these values seem to be shared by everyone here. It is not just that June is embarrassed that Devon has a shitty job like most of us, everyone is.

So, while it appears that the family has lost everything, all they have really lost is control of a company making wallpaper patterns. Could anything be less socially useful, more irrelevant than the sale of wallpaper patterns? They still manage to live comfortably in big houses where you can have family meals in the garden. And towards the end, a great victory is won by sealing a business deal – so they haven’t even lost the ability to sell pointless affectations.

What this means, for me at least, is that you feel it very difficult to feel empathy for any of them. And this is before a conclusion that is not just overly sentimental, it depends on so many unlikely coincidences that you have to have a lot more invested in the film than I did to go along with it. Added to this, it’s all so predictable that you can leave half way through and be sure of not missing much.

For all that, it’s not a bad film. It’s competently made and has received fairly good reviews – by critics and users alike – on IMDB. It has just been made by and for people who live quite different lives to me. I find it hard to identify with any of the characters, to share their elation and disappointments, or to weep when the insistent music is clearly telling me to feel sad. It all feels just so manipulative and alien to me.

But there’s something in there. As said, I think the general idea is really good. So don’t let me put you off. Too much.

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