Should I worry when a maddenly reflexive, opaque film like Derrida feels like comfort food to me?
Tenets of my film education: honesty in filmmaking. Honesty about the limitations of representation, the presence of the camera, the prickly filmmaker-subject relationship. The times when the filming goes wrong often interest me more. I suspect that within the footage for Derrida was plenty of material for a traditional documentary, one that was not about its own making. But the filmmakers chose this. They chose to expose themselves and allow Derrida to hide himself.
For me, the entire film hinges on the scene in which the filmmaker questions Derrida about his relationship with his sister. The filmmaker contradicts Derrida's account of that relationship, and Derrida laughs. The cranky philosopher amused by his student's teasing barb. Without this scene, I might have hated the film. It might have been a film about Derrida annoyed by cameramen. But this glimpse of friendship negates that reading. The film becomes about how Derrida talks in front of the camera, how the filmmakers want him to talk, how he refuses to talk. Which is what all documentaries are about.
Does this mean that all documentaries are only about themselves? Sure, but that doesn't mean that they aren't about other things too. "All documentaries are about the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject." So documentaries are about people, how they relate to each other, and cameras. That doesn't sound so bad to me.