Accident, The (1996): Joseph Lovett’s Docu about Mother’s Death in Freak Accident

SXSW, L.A. Indie and N.Y. Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals–An obsessive journey into the past is at the center of Joseph Lovett’s The Accident, a mildly engaging documentary driven by his need to know who his parents were, particularly his mother, who died in a freak accident when he was 13 and the only witness to a disastrous event that has shaped his entire life.

Despite its more universal family concerns, docu is not strong enough for theatrical release, but it should travel the festival road and then displayed on the small screen as a sampler of regional indie cinema, in this case Providence, Rhode Island.

Turning 50 proved to be a “momentous occasion” for Lovett, as he says in his personal narration, for the very reason that very few members of his family have lived that long. Browsing through photographs and relying on extensive interviews with his siblings, Lovett reconstructs his childhood as the youngest of five and seemingly favorite of his parents, who were in their forties when he was conceived.

Docu is structured as a “journey of discovery,” begun in 1974, when Lovett first filmed his family in their Cape Cod house on the occasion of the 40th birthday of his brother-lawyer Raul. As expected different testimonies make up for a Rashomon-like portrait of his parents, with consensus over the fact that his father was the more “emotionally demonstrative and gregarious,” and his mother the more “frosty and repressed.”

Lovett attempts to answer the kinds of questions that usually intrigue children about their parents over such delicate issues as their courtship, sex lives, intimate relationships, and so on. The entire Lovett clan suffered and disintegrated, when it was cruelly decided to separate their children as a result of their mother’s fatal illness. Mostly relying on the talking heads of his siblings, all of whom died in the 1990s from cancer, Lovett gives the impression of a sad man who was orphaned as a child and has never truly recovered from the traumatic events of that have shaped his life.

Through this anthropological kind of memoir, each member of the family expresses his/her innermost feelings about their parents, hence coming to terms with the “demons” that have tortured their souls as youngsters. In the last reel, Lovett recreates bizarrely and methodically the car accident on their back yard in which his mother lost her life right in front of his eyes. He repeats the images leading to the fateful accident over and over again, as if to persuade himself that it did happen, stressing his life-long need to comes to terms with it and reach inner peace.

Though hints are spread throughout about Lovett’s sexual orientation, the disclosure that he is gay, with a happily lived-in two-decade relationship, comes rather disappointingly at the very end of the film, accentuating the insider/outsider approach of the director toward his subject. Tech credits are decent, but voice-over narration is too extensive and not always revelatory.