For a couple of delades, we’ve come to label a special kind of documentary as creative or as docu-fiction. It’s been used to describe films which, as David Shield writes in his Reality Hunger: A Manifesto containing ”a blurring of borders until every difference between fiction and fact is invisible: reality must be as attractive as unsharp”.
Latvian filmmaker Herz Frank put it differently. ”Facts”, he once stated, ”is the only motive for making documentaries in the first place.” But facts can be handled in a number of different ways. Herz Frank uses the ancient Egyptian god Apis, the glorious ox, as a metaphor. He can be driven into the stockyard and disappear among all the other cattle. He can be used in a circus, going round and round to some beautiful music. He can be brought to the slaughterhouse be bled and crippled, turned into minced meat, sausages or beef – whatever the director/butcher prefers. He can be used in a corrida, a bullfight, which Herz Frank remarks is the most common. The director/toreador kills the bull, and does it beautifully, sometimes risking his/her life as it sometimes happens when life is at stake. At that moment, often, the editor/picador enters and diverts the bull when he threatens most. The Corrida is a real confrontation with the fact-ox. Real blood – albeit diluted – runs through the bullfighting films.
The fifth documentary method Herz Frank calls The Rodeo. The wild and untamed bulls come charging at the documentarists. Brave men and women jump on to their backs, and try to stay there as long as they possibly can. Apis is not tamed, emptied of blood, killed or crippled. Here you try to make friends with him, to hang in there, even become one. Even if Herz Frank seldom sees one method being refined in one single film, undoubtedly he prefers the rodeo.
And then Željka Suková’s Marija’s Own (Marijine) comes along and causes some refreshing cunfusion. It was presented in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West section, which the FEDEORA jury was judging. Is it a documentary? Is it fiction? Or is it, just like Herz Frank did in his most famous film Ten minutes older, gathering a number of people in the same room and in the same place and go from there? If you remember the Frank film, the camera in one ten minute long take, stays on one single child’s face, showing all the emotions and changes from horror to delight as the child watches what, in reality, was a puppet theatre performance, which in the film was replaced by a dramatic musical score.
In Marija’s Own, three sisters – one of them played by an actress, which is pointed out in the very beginning – arrange a party to commemorate their beloved grandmother. They invite neighbors and friends to Marija’s tiny apartment, filled with memorabilia. They provide food and drink. They let the extremely popular Czech electronic trio Midi Lidi squeeze into a corner by the table and play their existential tunes in person. Thus providing a musical score which continously juxtaposes the goings on at the table as the bottles are being emptied. And as a high point of the party, they arrange a competition between all the guests: who makes the best suggestion for grandmothers’ grave ornament – one that does her justice and/or captures what she was to each of them?
The Croatian director Željka Suková also works with other elements, like family films – and finally an excursion in town of Rijeka, to the grave itself. Obviously she’s not looking for factual, rationalistic truth but for emotional truth. It’s a remarkarbly lively, imaginative, surprising and – yes, considering its theme of loss and how to deal with it – an impressively happy film. Not for one single moment does the question arise if the film’s dramaturgy runs people’s behaviour, or the other way around. By whatever name, docufiction or corrida, rodeo or creative documentary, Marija’s Own would smell as sweet.
Eva af Geijerstam, Sweden, FEDEORA jury member