BOXOFFICE Dec 2002 | Rachel Deahl
The first person to tell you that attempting to deconstruct a deconstructionist is like treading water in cement would be Jacques Derrida. Of course, the futility in the whole point, and this straightforward documentary about one of the most fascinating and influential thinkers of the 20th century attempts the impossible with satisfying, if not groundbreaking, results.
Shot over the course of several years, the filmmakers follow Derrida in his public and private life, providing footage from academic lectures and personal conversations on topics ranging from love to his mother. For those already schooled on deconstruction, the chance to see Derrida in flesh, going about his daily like, talking to the camera, is enough of a thrill to make this effort worthwhile. (The multiple shots of him buttering his bread are oddly exhilarating; maybe it's good to be reminded, that great brains do the mundane things as well.) But for those unfamiliar with the basic strains of thought behind deconstruction and postmodernism, and for anyone who doesn't get a thrill at the mere mention of the subject's name, the film will have less impact.
With intermittent voiceovers delivering excerpts from his writings, there is a veiled attempt to provide background, and possible insight, on the complex school of thought Derrida spawned. Ultimately, though, the excerpts are more befuddling than elucidating: Reading Derrida often requires more than one pass, so hearing the work read to you hardly allows for proper digestion. To that end, an analysis of the philosopher's writing would have been more helpful than simply a regurgitation of it.
But explaining deconstruction may not have been the intention here. And it's incredibly enjoyable to watch Derrida pick apart, and fight against, the very process and premise of making a film about someone- particularly him.
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