Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
A Review by David Finkelstein.
A Stroll Down Sunflower Lane, a 14 minute experimental film by Egyptian filmmaker Mayye Zayed, is a strange project of artificially constructed nostalgia. The film has the appearance of a pastiche of home film and video, piecing together snippets of Super 8 and VHS shots of an old man and his granddaughter, the man increasingly feeble over time, the girl gradually growing into a young woman. The soundtrack includes a number of recorded messages the grandfather made with his children and grandchildren over the years, celebrating occasions such as the first day of Eid. However, only the audio recordings are actual archival documents. The film and video footage are careful modern reconstructions of Zayed’s memories, in which she hires actors and shoots the footage to mimic real home movies, quite convincingly.
As a result, an air of fetishized, sentimentalized memory pervades the film. The opening Super 8 sequence, with the girl at age two or three walking down a street with the grandfather past enormous sunflowers, has the consecrated air of the “earliest memory,” and in intertitles, Zayed admits she doesn’t know how accurate the scene is. In later scenes, we see the grandfather appear in an animal mask to entertain kids at a birthday party, looking both scary and enchanting. Later, the girl is eight or nine and tries to convince her ailing grandfather to eat, while the TV shows a melodramatic musical about a father and a daughter separating. These scenes have the emotional punch of fear, guilt, and longing which typify the scenes which we enshrine or embellish in memory.
The grandfather is shown giving a VHS camera to the girl, and the scene clearly implies that Zayed believes her inspiration to be a filmmaker comes from him. In her notes on the film, Zayed writes about her grandfather’s primary importance for her, and how devastated she was to realize that she had neither still pictures nor footage to remember him by. She decides to create for herself the memorializing artifacts that no one made in real life, apparently so she can watch them in the future and pretend that they are real. Since the film is a product of her adult artistry, coupled with her sense of regret and guilt, it represents a kind of blanket refusal of her own history as it really happened, an embrace of a more sentimentalized fictional version, and a complete distrust of her own internalized memories.
The film itself shows no awareness of the problems inherent in this exercise in false nostalgia, which are, after all, the problems of memory itself. Home movies are normally an attempt to help us reconnect with a pleasant version of past domestic events, but they are well-known for their unpleasant tendency to show us awkward or negative realities that don’t fit neatly into a comforting view of the past. With these elaborately faked home movies, Zayed is concretizing the mind’s tendency to re-stage the past to conform to the emotional needs of the present. The result is a kind of assault on the idea of film as a tool for discovering truth.