Explorations of memory permeate the International Competition of the 17th London Short Film Festival
Words by Savina Petkova / @SavinaPetkova
Throughout London Short Film Festival's International Competition, one might notice an intricate lacing made of ethereal and real memories. Also imprints, even souvenirs — the impressions that linger from a past known or forgotten, they tend to charge back (or forward?) into the present, emanating from objects, corners, whispers. Four short films turn to the metamorphic suspension between material source and impalpable product, paralleling binaries such as reality/fiction, analogue/digital, body/spirit.
In The Hissing of Summer Sands, director Catarina Mourão intertwines photomontage, tableaux of written narration, and found footage of overcrowded Portuguese beaches to reveal the mythic potential of memory. While it’s indeterminable what the prime material of the film is — whether it is a loose memory of one’s own childhood, as the title cards suggest, or rather an investigation of the ‘whistle man’, a personage known from the country’s fascist days — Mourão interlaces personal, social, and fictitious with the attentive care of a bedtime storyteller. The film’s narrative strings come together in the figure of a man clothed in all-white, whistling children into his company. Yet the seamless succession of events plays out on at least three planes of thought, sculpting recollections like clay, ones that will latch onto a receptive viewer long after the final frame disappears. Being invited into someone else’s history carries a healing potential, as with every flick of the storytelling notebook that recounts the film’s plot, the audience relationship is rearranged anew. The Hissing of Summer Sands reminds us that collective anamnesis marks film spectatorship as an alternative means of communication, one that defines cinema’s most venerable quality.
Catarina Mourão intertwines photomontage, tableaux of written narration, and found footage of overcrowded Portuguese beaches to reveal the mythic potential of memory.
'The Hissing of the Summer Sands'
Found footage also constitutes the core of horizōn, Anya Tsyrlina and Sid Iandovka’s short film inspired by its Soviet Siberian newsreel source material. Such a name encapsulates both the infinite discoveries one might encounter in the film’s runtime, as well as the line of meaning that unites and unties abstraction and narrative. Lights become cosmic bodies and the superimposition of images de-centres one’s perception of cause and effect. Yet the oscillation between gain of context and loss thereof, conjures an unstable world that seems on the verge of creation. The ephemerality of the omnipresent spheres of light is complemented with a more concrete aural film-world, presented with a heavy chant-like voiceover and resounding cracks embedded in the sound. Reinventing the notion of memory’s material, horizōn resembles the grammar of a past continuous tense with its formal aesthetic unity, abiding to the newsreel, and its emphatic remastering into a personal, ineffable yet visual experience.
Individual chronology is oftentimes structured around turning points, or what philosopher Karl Jaspers calls ‘limit situations’, in which the outside world thrusts into the individual's life in a reorganising manner, the most prominent example being the near death experience. In Sandoval’s Bullet, Jean-Jacques Martinod addresses mortality as an ontological principle in one’s life, diving deep into the personal reminiscence of Isidro Vargas and his brother. While using the first person narration, Vargas does not simply tell a story, but rather attempts to share the incomprehensible in a manner that gradually unfolds between mellow tone of voice and the underlying, unanswered questions. Pairing his voiceover with serene closeups of Ecuadorian rainforest exteriors or dimly lit bedrooms, the film’s overwhelming intimacy grapples with the individuality of experience — it is I that almost died. Transcending the ‘I-world’ dichotomy even in the slow pace of Vargas’ story over a black screen, Sandoval’s Bullet pinpoints its traumatic elements in the imageless mention of a bullet and a broken bottle, that both almost caused death. By swapping an actual representation of events with a bird-song contemplation of nature’s buzzing secret world, the film taps into the healing mechanism of locution, the therapeutic power of articulation on both aural and conceptual level.
By swapping an actual representation of events with a bird-song contemplation of nature’s buzzing secret world, the film taps into the healing mechanism of locution, the therapeutic power of articulation.
Relegating memories to wounds generates trauma but also holds the key to absolution. One should expect nothing less than the voluntary revisiting of past pain in order to advance bravely into a future tense. Linking mythology to a private reminiscence, Georgi Stamenov presents us with ЮНАК, a memory-laden epic that observes a geo-traumatic narrative. It is in places, mostly specific topoi in Bulgaria that the past becomes actualised, as the film regularly returns to what seems like miniature panel apartment buildings, painfully characteristic of Socialist architecture. Refusing to be a remnant of past times itself, the film relies on animation, often photorealistic, and circular camera movements that envelop places and objects with the same thirst and curiosity. Monuments, houses in ruins, soaked in water or erupting with fire, here memory is stratified as a city with its concrete and green bits, all of them succumbing to the purifying urge of the eponymous brave one’s wounds.
Still, as language can only give us tenses and grammar to rearrange and reflect a time past, it is cinema that can give life to images. It is in film that eternal life can be gained precisely by extracting memory from a line of duration. Underlying all stories and non-narrative art, it is the mémoire involontaire that defines the human situation as an opportunity to connect, empathise, and recognise the Other as oneself.