A fracture of a different sort takes place in director Doug Block’s autobiographical documentary, 51 Birch Street. Like Ross McElwee before him, Block tells his story in an informal way that turns the film into a memoir of sorts.

Block’s story begins when his mother dies rather suddenly after 54 years of marriage to his father. Along with his two sisters, the director watches, stunned as his father swiftly remarries a former secretary. This act alone causes the family to question how happy the union really had been and if his father had an affair during the marriage with his new wife.

Block’s curiosity piqued, he stumbles upon a pile of his mother’s journals, tantalizing him with potential answers to both his parents’ relationship and also to the person his mother was. Like Pandora with her magic box, Block knows that once he opens his mother’s private writings, there’s no going back.

Interviewing his father, siblings and friends of his parents, the director uncovers ways in which secrets become a part of a family’s history in a way that everyone becomes invested in keeping them. Like Pandora and Adam and Eve before the fall, “the innocence is bliss” theory of living is easy to idealize and long for.

On the other hand, the empathy and wisdom Block discovers on his journey helps him better understand who he is and the reality of his own marriage, which proves touching and insightful in a way that ignorance never can be.

Grade: A

51 Birch Street is currently available.