It was snowing the day my brother died. The world was silent. The air thick with fading memories that drifted upwards – cruelly inverting the brittle flakes braiding downwards.
We are told grief is a journey. Each year that passes marks another step towards the goal of being less entrenched in sadness. Yet each year, the snow returns and brings with it that silence.
My understanding of grief is deeply connected to my relationship with nature. This is something I found myself reflecting on when watching the Vivian, Vivian and Waterfall, screening together at this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
Vivian, Vivian is a striking film poem written and directed by Ingrid Kamerling. It journeys from clouded, mesmerising dreamscapes to the urban arena of nighttime Utrecht. In doing so it maps the previously untouched path laid by the suicide of Kamerling’s sister. At its core, this film is about a woman’s journey through grief.
However, when watching it I kept thinking about the ways in which memory and setting become intertwined. As archive footage of Kamerling’s sister transitions into stilled waterways and then back to urban hinterlands, it is clear than even these apparent journeys into understanding are punctuated and confused by the jolts of human memory. What we’re presented with is a series of the filmmaker’s emotional coordinates.
At the film’s climax, the mental state of its subject is described as a ‘maelstrom’, a naturally occurring but violent whirlpool. Its appearance disrupts the journey, giving new meaning to the repeated use of water imagery throughout. This is not a straightforward narrative. Grief is never straightforward.
While Vivian, Vivian takes the viewer on a journey into the whirlpools of grief, Waterfall plunges us deep into its mires. Winner of Best Experimental Film at this year’s festival, Tom Lock Griffiths’s journey through the landscapes of loss reiterates the central theme of Vivian, Vivian, as the filmmaker attempts to understand his own mother’s suicide.
Reflecting on the ways in which landscape holds memory, the film offers the illusion of sequence, punctuated by the narrator’s use of numerical titles for each segment. However, this is merely an illusion, and the film focuses on a scattering of meaningful sites and memories. By ‘listening’ to the world around him, Griffiths delves deep into the archeology of his own loss, offering a poignant alternative to traditional linear journeys through grief.
A trickle of water outside a London flat takes us to a reservoir in Wales, built only on the purposeful destruction and clearing of two villages. A walk with an old girlfriend allows us to think for a moment about an archaic landscape of timber walkways and remnant footprints. Landscapes absorb these moments in time and lay them bare.
Towards the film’s conclusion, Griffiths dwells for a moment on the ‘vast psychological landscapes’ of the human brain. The temporally conflicted landscapes on screen are now only projections of human synapses. Memory is not linear, but reveals itself to us in the conflicts between place and time.
The landscapes of my own grief are snow-covered and silent. Snow melts and becomes water. Water evaporates and is recycled into rain. Rain falls on our cities. For anybody who’s ever experienced grief, this seems a much more poignant metaphor than that of a journey. The cyclical process echo the ways in which memories recede, return and recede again in ways we cannot control. But I find great comfort in this. Watching these films is a reminder to return to places where memories dwell.
by Kirsty Strang-Roy