Canadian independent filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz (b. 1985) has made a series of subtly intertwined films that each find different ways to explore family history, the archive and intimate memory. Bohdanowicz’ celebrated feature, Maison du Bonheur, reveals her personal yet self-effacing approach to filmmaking as a means to creatively reanimate the past. A disarmingly affectionate portrait of a Parisian widow focused on her everyday rituals and living memories, Maison du Bonheur also offers a refracted self-portrait of Bohdanowicz as director and as a young woman in need of “new memories” to exorcise a sad past chapter of her life hinted at but never explained. In a restrained voiceover, Bohdanowicz quietly asserts and questions her presence and motives as an artist, giving the film the gentle uncertainty and searching quality shared by her other works.
Bohdanowicz’ debut feature Never Eat Alone also centers on a spirited elderly woman, the filmmaker’s grandmother, starring in an imagined version of her own life invented in collaboration with Bohdanowicz and Canadian actress Deragh Campbell, who plays an alter-ego granddaughter determined to rekindle an old romance that almost was. With Never Eat Alone, Bohdanowicz embraces a rich but carefully understated intermingling of documentary and fiction that continues, differently, in two very recent films, Veslemøy’s Song and MS Slavic 7, each featuring Deragh Campbell as an intrepid researcher searching for traces of Bohdanowicz’ family members in prominent US libraries. Tinged with self-depreciatory humor, often delivered in sharp but minimalist dialogue, both films discover a deeply personal relationship between the distant past and uncertain present. Set in a fictional version of Harvard’s Houghton Library—where, in fact, papers of Zofia Bohdanowiczowa, the filmmaker’s great-grandmother, are housed—MS Slavic 7 offers a playful and profound reflection on archival research, especially by lingering insightfully upon the tactile and emotional registers of meaning most often dismissed as ancillary. Made in collaboration with Campbell, Veslemøy’s Song and MS Slavic 7 mark a philosophical turn in Bohdanowicz’ filmmaking: both are animated by open questions about the limits of language and interpretation and the responsibilities of the archive. Despite the weight of their inquiries, Bohdanowicz and Campbell (who is credited as co-director of MS Slavic 7) impart a subtle levity to their projects, refining a deadpan comic timing that opens the awkward but pregnant space between words and encounters to give these compact and streamlined films a rare depth and intimacy. – Haden Guest
The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to partner with Houghton Library to welcome Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell for a screening and discussion of Veslemøy’s Song and MS Slavic 7. Joining the conversation will be Houghton’s Leslie Morris, Gore Vidal Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts.
On Tuesday, September 17 at 7pm, both Bohdanowicz and Campbell will present and discuss their first collaboration, Never Eat Alone, in the Design and Media Center’s Lecture Hall at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.