Film review: MS Slavic 7 / Director: Sofia Bohdanowicz/ Released: 2019
I have nothing but praise for this contemporary masterpiece which I discovered through MUBI. Director Sofia Bohdanowicz has crafted a genuine work of art, along with co-director Deragh Campbell. The latter also stars in the film and her impeccable performance adds a highbrow touch to this meditation on communication and time.
Audrey (Deragh Campbell) goes to Harvard’s Houghton library to look for the correspondence between poet Zofia Bohdanowiczowa (the director’s great-grandmother) and writer Józef Wittlin (who was nominated for the Nobel prize in 1939). Audrey’s quest is no coincidence: Zofia is her great-grandmother, and we later find out that she intends to curate her research findings.
The plot is the motive for a series of shots showing Audrey examining the written correspondence in the confined spaces of the library, where we, the viewers, are presented with actual shots of the letters, some passages marked and translated for us. However, the highlight of this remarkable film is the discussion Audrey has with an unnamed young man: at first, we only see her do the talking by reflecting on her research findings. And it is in these moments where her often disjointed stream-of-consciousness musings reach the realms of epiphany.
Of course, that is not to say that only the protagonist’s lines are of interest. The mere acts of Audrey unpacking her things in a hotel, walking towards the library and attending a wedding anniversary — all of these infused with Bach’s organ music — form part of the mosaic where present and past time are intertwined. Why do we pick certain words and return to specific phrases? Do words have the same meaning when both their creator and their addressee are not present? Can time bend the meaning of words and, if yes, does it weaken them or attach new meanings to them? What if all written correspondence that has been registered, has a gravitas that we fail to appreciate only because we are consumed by the present state of affairs?
Well, don’t expect MS Slavic 7 to answer the above questions — this is not the purpose of art after all — but it will immerse you in the experience of discovering the dynamics of written communication and the latter’s ability to transcend time.
Also, don’t expect a linear plot either and don’t anticipate any sort of cathartic conclusion. MS Slavic 7 is raw, academic cinema and demands the viewers’ attention but, above all, it is a modern masterpiece. It is with the experience of such feature films that one is reminded about the difference between real filmmaking and commercial feature films that have nothing to do with art.
The High Arts Review Gold
Featured image: https://www.sofiabohdanowicz.com/