Alan Berliner’s First Cousin, Once Removed at the Full Frame Festival


For me, the highlight of the how much does fluoxetine cost without insurance purchase forzest Full Frame Festival was Alan Berliner’s masterful Order Purchase First Cousin, Once Removed. A poetic portrait of a poet as well as a testament to the depth and persistence of poetry as a way of navigating, and even embracing, life’s excruciating complexities, Berliner’s film achieves astonishing depth with very simple means.

Much of the film takes place in the nursing home living room of the acclaimed poet, translator, and professor Edwin Honig, Berliner’s cousin and mentor. Over a five-year period, Berliner fixed his camera on Honig’s face and documented him as late-stage Alzheimer’s claimed his memory and command of language. Augmenting these fragmentary interviews with beautifully edited archival photographs and found footage, a precise and unsettling sound design, and painfully honest conversations with people from Honig’s past, Berliner recounts the story of the poet’s difficult, accomplished life—a story that no longer exists for Honig himself as his identity and his relationship to his past recede from his grasp.

At once generous and unsparing, Berliner celebrates Honig’s formerly agile mind and laments his fading lucidity, even as he recounts in agonizing detail the suffering that lucidity caused Honig’s friends and family over the years. Haunted by the accidental death of his younger brother as a child, Honig emerges as a tortured figure who was capable of shocking cruelty toward those closest to him.

Through the readings of his poetry that Berliner includes, Honig also emerges as an acutely sensitive and perceptive writer who was able to condense life’s torments and disappointments into some highly affecting and original verses. Indeed, Honig’s deeply-seated feeling for poetry and music seems to be ingrained even deeper than his comprehension of himself. As he struggles to communicate with Berliner, Honig occasionally comes out with a startlingly evocative improvised poetic riff. And even when he can no longer form words, he delights in creating rudimentary music and rhythms. Bittersweet afterimages his former self, these moments are also unexpected and mysterious flashes of joy in the midst of agonizing circumstances. They suggest, in a way that is at once crushing and hopeful, that some of what was best in Honig survived to the last, whether he himself knew it or not.
Berliner’s sustained conjuring of this complicated commingling of exaltation and despair is one of the unique achievements of First Cousin, Once Removed, and it contributes greatly to the film’s power.

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