On letting go, holding on, remembering, and forgetting


What happens to us and what we experience are not always the same thing.

The facts of our lives can be added into many different sums. We hold on to some facts. We walk away from others. We struggle to find a theme to place all those kept and discarded facts into. Our own minds become masters at shaping the shards of experience into images and the images into memories, and then forgetting and reshaping again. We guess at what it all means, and on a good day we feel educated in our guesses. On a bad day . . . well, on a bad day it is all so much flotsam and jetsam.

Earlier this month, Filmworks volunteer Olga Verkhotina gave us an excellent primer on surrealism in film. Surrealist cinema can often speak to the impossible randomness of life by visualizing our dreams and memories in the same inscrutable way that they often come to us.

Films about our lives, then, can be as impossible to decipher as life itself.

“Bird People,” our Dec. 12 movie from French filmmaker Pascale Ferran, is a recent example of the surrealist interpretation of the human heart and mind. Josh Charles stars as a Bay Area man traveling to Paris on business. Once he arrives at his hotel, he abruptly quits. His job, his family, his life. He says that he’s done, that he’s had enough.

Anaïs Demoustier, pictured at the top of this post, plays a young woman who is not done with life, but only done with the one she thought she would have. She has escaped the pressure of succeeding as a university student to work as a maid in the hotel. Her natural curiosity and fascination with life continues to draw her into the lives of the hotel patrons she cleans up after.

These two will meet and begin to wonder — in unexpected ways — how to hold on, how to experience life, and if they ever let go.

Quitting is not always an easy thing to do. The memories we vow to disown haunt us as we try to sleep. Our waking hours are filled with the consequences of what we tried to let go. We seek peace, renewal, and a fresh horse.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” from another French filmmaker, Michel Gondry, takes a surrealist approach to its characters’ attempts to leave the past in the past. Jim Carrey gives a haunting dramatic performance as Joel, a man so haunted by a recent breakup that he hires a company that promises they can erase all traces of the relationship from his memory.

The procedure to erase Joel’s memory does so haphazardly and incompletely. Joel and the audience are left with the shards. Sharp, jagged bits of memory that somehow must add up to a relationship, a life. A life that Jim discovers is not so easy to let go of. As his memories start to collapse around him, Joel relives his time with Clementine (played by Kate Winslet) and rushes to save the most precious memories he has of their life together.

And finally, because in my mind no discussion about contemporary surrealism can be quite complete without her, here is my holiday gift to you: “All is Full of Love,” by Icelandic actress and musician Bjork.

Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She serves on the Filmworks board, working on marketing and development.