It’s her own history, family and personal, that Quebec filmmaker Claudie Lévesque evokes in My Family in 17 Takes (Ma famille en 17 bobines, 2011, F3M) In it, Lévesque pieces together a family chronicle from 17 home movie reels. If her process flushes out the memories entrapped on celluloid, so too does it unearth other, more secret recollections, buried far from the family archives. The youngest of 17 children, she invites her parents and siblings to share their memories of Gaétan, the oldest brother who died in a tractor accident. As his memory takes shape through the polyphonic voice-over, the filmmaker, in a sparse few sentences discreetly inserted onscreen, evokes parallel childhood memories, painfully repressed. Missing from the reels, unaccounted for in the interviews, a somewhat unclear (“I can’t remember how old I was”) yet indelible mark stains the author’s memory, pervading the family narrative. As family members share their beliefs about the hereafter, one brother, a non-believer, delivers his own version of life after death, metaphorically tracing a line to memory: “We live on — that’s my interpretation — in the memories of others. And what you leave behind, it’s a good life principle to leave good memories behind. Otherwise, that might be your karma, your purgatory, if you will.”
Vietnam-born Quebec filmmaker Khoa Lê examines identity, hybridization and memory in his feature-length film Bà Nôi (Grandma) (2013, F3M). A trip to his native land provides the opportunity to reconnect with his grandmother — someone at once familial and estranged — as well as embark on a richly sensory, memory-infused journey into his roots. Like Onodera, Lê treats identity as multivariate and perpetually shifting. The realm of the imagination is pivotal to his quest, more impressionist than intellectual. Through a hybrid approach intercutting direct cinema with fictional sequences, he creates an oneiric mosaic of images, sounds and sensations that mingle recollections of the past with present-day experience and country of birth with adopted country. As in Lévesque’s film, the family atmosphere is crowded with ghosts: Lê’s deceased grandfather, embodied as a fictional traveller and thus fusing with the filmmaker’s own persona; and an aunt, who, though fleetingly evoked — she drowned at sea in the boat originally slated to take young Lê and his family to Canada — nonetheless haunts the film. Informed by dreams and wanderings, Bà Nôi is both a family documentary and a self-portrait woven from the unsaid, blurred memories and hazy impressions.
“We live on — that’s my interpretation — in the memories of others. And what you leave behind, it’s a good life principle to leave good memories behind. Otherwise, that might be your karma, your purgatory, if you will.”