Hot Docs

Who We Will Have Been Review: Grief, Millennial Style

Hot Docs 2022

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4 mins read

Who We Will Have Been
(Germany, 82 min.)
Dir. Erec Brehmer, Angelina Zeidler
Program: International Spectrum (International Premiere)

 

Can playing Dr. Frankenstein be an act of love? Filmmaker Erec Brehmer assembles the bits and pieces that remain of his late girlfriend Angelina Zeidler, and credits her in the process, with the elegiac Who We Will Have Been. The exercise is as contemplative as it is therapeutic as Brehmer navigates the grieving process through filmmaking. He revisits his relationship with Zeidler after she dies tragically in a car accident. Although her life was cut cruelly short, Who We Will Have Been immortalises Zeidler by stitching together the archive of their relationship. On one hand, the film wonders about the lost moments, missed opportunities, and things left unsaid. On the other, Brehmer relishes the life persevered by the fastidious documentation of their love.

Who We Will Have Been therefore carves a unique space for millennial grief. This is a story of love and loss told exclusively through Tinder, WhatsApp, text messages, and iPhone videos. Previous generations have films and photographs that preserve relationships and record lives. Their ghosts endure in negatives and physical archives. For people of Brehmer and Zeidler’s generation, however, lives are ephemeral. Pixels and binary codes can be erased with a mere click. Lives disappear as digital files are deleted. This act of remembrance therefore illustrates how seemingly mundane acts like posting a meal on Instagram or sharing a moment on Facebook might be the few traces of one’s existence.

 

Learning to Love Again

Brehmer segments the film into acts of before and after. He revisits the courtship days: they met on Tinder, and he quickly learned to like her dogs. Rather than simply subjecting people to his own home movies, though, Brehmer interrogates the moments he captured. As they attend a friend’s wedding, for example, Zeidler confesses to her beau’s camera that she hopes to have what they have one day. These memories prompt speculation both healthy and unhealthy. Was he responsible, directly or indirectly, for Angi’s death?

These questions fly through the second act, which revisits the accident and its aftermath. As Brehmer recalls his girlfriend driving across the median into oncoming traffic, he can’t help but consider the possibility of suicide. Similarly, he regrets not taking Zeidler up on her advice that she welcomed a marriage proposal. However, Brehmer knows that he can’t bring her back no matter how much he can evoke her presence through media. Instead, the film finds a hopeful note as he thanks her for the time they shared. By making the film, he can move on without necessarily letting go. He can learn to love again by recognizing how to mend a broken heart.

The extensive mining of these personal memories at first might seem self-indulgent. Do audiences really need to watch one person exhume the dead with a digital montage? Social media posts often involve oversharing, though, and Who We Will Have Been explores this generational phenomenon of making the private public. This study might be unique to the digital footprint that Brehmer and Zeidler share, but like the best love stories, Who We Will Have Been is universal. This is a disarmingly personal exploration of grief, and the growth one experiences by confronting loss.

 

Who We Will Have Been screened at Hot Docs 2022.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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