A new film captures the homelife of Nobel Prize-winning author Annie Ernaux in a series of grainy Super 8 home videos. Read our The Super 8 Years review.
The Super 8 Years shares some DNA with last year’s best film, Aftersun. Both look at personal histories through grainy video footage, casting their gaze to sunny holidays and superficially happy times, attempting to uncover some new truths to old conflicts.
Directed by Annie Ernaux and her son David Ernaux-Briot, The Super 8 Years consist of only the Ernaux family’s old home video from the 1970s and the 80s. Through these grainy, unfocused videos, we get a fractured, deeply personal image of the Ernaux family as well as the cultural landscape of France at the time.
Clocking in at just over an hour, The Super 8 Years reflects problems more than it solves them. It’s a marvelously honest piece of cinema: the film details the breakdown of a family and the personal failures of Annie and Phillippe Ernaux as partners. Yet, there is very little conflict in the film. Annie’s voiceover tells the story behind the images we see; despite every member of the family waving and smiling at the camera, tensions were brewing as Annie’s career as a writer was taking off.
The most beautiful aspect of The Super 8 Years is its ability to amplify the beauty of the mundane. Most of the footage captures the family’s everyday life; Phillippe, who is rarely seen in front of the camera, films his wife coming home from the supermarket and their children opening presents at Christmas. Somehow, the ordinary is made extraordinary here. Whether it’s the nostalgia-tinted graininess of the footage or meaning imposed to it by memory, it’s hard to say, but the effect is nonetheless powerful.
The tenderness and honesty with which Ernaux comes to terms with a life lived is remarkable here. There is an endearing, unpolished quality to these images. The format gives the film texture, something sorely lacking in today’s AI-filled world.
What often hinders The Super 8 Years is the constant voiceover by Annie Ernaux. She narrates the entire film, but there is very little silence, very little time for the audience to reflect on the images on the screen. It creates a strangely relentless pace for a film without much of a plot. Even when Annie is able to reflect on her personal life, gender roles within her marriage or her career, we’re constantly playing catchup and trying to soak up as much of the presented information as possible.
The documentary also paints a picture of France, and by extension, the world, at the cusp of change. Annie describes Britain as “the most exotic of the nearby countries”, but the family also visit countries such as Albania, where they were only allowed at a specific section at the beach without mixing with the locals.
The Super 8 Years is sometimes limited by its chosen format. By using only the family’s home videos, we never get a full image of Phillippe and the children seem to only exist as happy, shallow supporting characters. The Super 8 Years flirts with greatness and fleetingly even achieves it, but ultimately falls victim to the limits of its medium. Still, this is a moving portrait of the breakdown of a marriage and the family unit.
The Super 8 Years arrives in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on 23 June.