Just marginally a documentary, “Chronicling a Crisis” turns out to be one of Amos Kollek’s more affecting films, partly because the Israeli helmer turns his camera on his woeful self and on Robin Remias, an East Village junkie whose downward spiral provides an exaggerated metaphor for Kollek’s own. Although Kollek’s aesthetic is as abrasive as his narrative is fractured, neither is haphazard: The angular self-portraiture, scuttling street scenes and the director’s reflections on his failing father, longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, form an unusual but intelligent mix that could well click with arthouse auds looking for something unique.
Seven years in the making, “Chronicling a Crisis” gets its start from Kollek’s inability to finish a film. The director of such Euro faves as “Sue” and “Fiona” (with cult actress Anna Thomson) and “Double Edge” (with Faye Dunaway), Kollek hit a wall in 2003: Though expected to be a hit, his Audrey Tautou starrer “Happy End” never found an audience and left Kollek with a bad case of writer-director’s block. So he finally decided to simply shoot first, and examine later.
With his perpetual outsider’s perspective, the Israeli-born Kollek finds a Manhattan that still seems frozen in the ’70s, with suspicious people everywhere, alongside Remias, a con artist, cokehead and heroin user. Like so many earlier Kollek characters, Remias is trying to survive in New York, and her struggle does indeed have its creative side: Every day, she has to figure out a way to score drugs. Remias’ pretty face is scarred by obvious physical deterioration, and her process of temporary recovery followed by further decline proves as morbidly fascinating as her ever-cheerful patter is incongruous. Kollek’s attempts to make her the star of the film only emphasize his own desperation; brief appearances by Thomson and Ally Sheedy, who good-naturedly rebuffs the helmer’s efforts to get her into his film, make the extent of his slide all the clearer.
At the same time, this is precisely what the film is about: Kollek’s self-acknowledged failure to become the director he always wanted to be and somehow eclipse his famous father, whom Kollek obviously loves, but who has always represented an unachievable ideal for his son. (The elder Kollek makes a frail, wheelchair-bound appearance here.) The parallel the helmer draws with Remias is self-pitying and absurd, but his awareness of this fact goes a long way toward making the movie palatable.
In a very early scene, Kollek notes that “Happy End” was supposed to be a comedy, but apparently wasn’t funny. “Maybe depressing is in?” he suggests. “I’ll make one of the most depressing movies ever made.” But then he doesn’t: “Chronicling a Crisis” is about confronting perceived failure and depression, being grateful for what one has, and getting a clue as to the degree of one’s own unhappiness. Remias, despite her insistent and questionable good cheer, is the one with the real problem, and Kollek makes her his muse of self-awareness, in the process crafting a film of considerable emotional and spiritual substance.
Production values are appropriately sketchy.