It has been less than a year since my younger brother passed away at the age of 43-years-old almost exactly one year after he was first diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Our lives were vastly different, challenging childhoods having sent both of us off into different life directions. We loved one another, but we very seldom ever spent time with one another.
I had the good fortune to spend time with my brother, Joshua, the night before his passing thanks to the astute observations of his wife of less than one year who texted me with the advice that I consider visiting soon.
I'm so glad I did.
I thought of Joshua a lot while watching Chris Esper's exceptional new film, the 14-minute documentary short Yesteryear. Esper has long been a gifted filmmaker, though Yesteryear is unquestionably my favorite of his films to date. Simultaneously beautifully shot and rich in emotional resonance, Yesteryear centers itself around a central concept, the idea of home movies and their essential value, and simply surrenders itself to it.
Yesteryear is partly experimental, but it's experimental in the same way that life is ultimately an experiment. It's really a simple film, wholly existing within the realm of home movies reflecting the seasons of birth and life and death and everything that comes in between. From the opening seconds of Yesteryear, one feels the immense love contained within these images and contained within Esper's treatment of them. They are cinematically stitched together seamlessly, one moment flowing gently to the next as we're introduced to people we don't know and faces we may not fully understand but we can't help but embrace.
This is life and love and loss and joy and sorrow and eveyrthing else.
As I watched Yesteryear, I lamented, honestly grieved, the absence of any such type of footage for my family or with my brother. Left with nothing more than ashes, a few old Christmas gifts, and a handful of photos I find myself in a deeper state of grief precisely because of the absence of anything resembling the love and care contained within Yesteryear.
The images that unfold in Yesteryear are the kind of images that leave you with what I call "warm fuzzies," that goosebump-inducing feel one gets when love finds our most vulnerable spaces. The original score by Steven Lanning-Cafaro is sublime perfection, warm and safe and nostalgic and filled with tenderness. Esper's editing work here is precise yet patient, images seemingly float across the screen yet they do so in a way that feels natural.
At a time in our society when tension is in the air and in our relationships and COVID-19 remains an ever-present threat, there's a refreshing simplicity and innocence in Yesteryear that makes it an even more powerful experience. The images are both intimate and universal, lingering memories familiar for many of us yet also subtle reminders of the many ways in which our lives always seem to possess common ground. In short, Yesteryear is a rich and unforgettable experience and the kind of film that will have you rifling through your closets pulling out home movies and family photos of your own.
For more information on Yesteryear, visit the film's official website linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic