From Void to Memory
“The landscape as memory” is a concept that has yielded a lot of interesting research, both in the academic and the artistic field. This audiovisual project by Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas adds the video essay to the list of formats in which this topic has been explored. It is a great addition for several reasons.
Rivas finds a shared sensibility in films by Yasujirō Ozu, John Ford and José Luis Guerin, Huillet-Straub, Chantal Akerman and James Benning. They all love presenting void spaces in order to evoke (or even create) memories. Sometimes the unpeopled frames refer to historical ghosts (such as in Akerman’s Sud), sometimes they contain the memory of another film (such as José Luis Guerin’s revisiting of the shooting location of a John Ford movie), sometimes they echo earlier efforts by the same filmmaker (such as Benning’s diptych One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later). Always, these void spaces invite the viewer to fill them with their (or shared) memories. Rivas does a great job of pointing out this shared modus operandi, while also going into the subtle differences in strategy used by these directors. The video essay is a cleverly thought out chain of film excerpts in which each shackle comments on the preceding one and sets up the next.
Slow cinema and in general more contemplative, slow moving films are often overlooked by video essay makers. Their unhurried pace is at odds with the short attention span of the internet – and of most video essays. This video essay, presented by streaming service MUBI which itself doesn’t shy away from slower fare, is not afraid to take its time. Rivas often lets the landscape shots play out in their (near) entirety, spreading single sentences of voice over commentary over the duration of the shots. It makes for mesmerizing viewing that invites you to think and feel along.