306 HOLLYWOOD (Elan and Jonathan Bogarín, 2018)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, February 2, $15 (includes museum admission), 6:30
Festival runs February 1-3
Psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both used the metaphor of a house to represent the whole of a person and his or her psyche. Siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín explore that concept in 306 Hollywood, an imaginative documentary in which they seek to define who their beloved late grandmother was — and where she is after her death. In 2011, Annette Ontell passed away at the age of ninety-three. In her will, she left her home of sixty-seven years, a relatively basic suburban house at 306 Hollywood Ave. in Hillside, New Jersey, to Elan and Jonathan, who at first were encouraged by their mother, Marilyn Ontell, to sell it. But after funeral director Sherry Anthony tells the siblings that it is believed that following a death, the soul of the deceased hovers around its home for nearly a year, they changed their mind. “You have eleven months to make your grandmother tangible again,” she explains. And the Bogaríns take that time to turn the house into an archaeological dig, excavating through physical items that spur memories of the past to celebrate the life of their beloved grandmother. “As far as we knew, the house was her world,” Jonathan says. “When you lose someone you love, you start to look for new ways to understand the world,” Elan adds.
Elan and Jonathan use re-creations, home movies, family photographs, and filmed interviews they made with Annette, a fashion designer who was married to an accountant named Herman, every year from 2001 to 2011, in which she honestly and entertainingly shares her thoughts about her long life, including discussions of death. The siblings, who employ a visual sense of humor and magical realism akin to that of a Wes Anderson movie combined with the documentary style of Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda, speak with their mother, Annette’s daughter, Marilyn Ontell, as well as fashion conservator Nicole Bloomfield; Rockefeller archivist Robert Clark; Biblioteca Casanatense librarian Isabella Ceccopieri and director Rita Fioravanti; archaeologist Jan Gadeyne; and MIT physicist and novelist Alan Lightman, who all offer views about interpreting physical and psychological aspects of a person’s life, from items they collected to papers they saved to the clothes they wore. Two of the most compelling scenes involve clothing; Elan and Jonathan film their grandmother trying to put on dresses, with the help of her daughter, that she made more than half a century before. Annette sits in a chair in her bra and panties, her aging body mostly exposed to the camera, as she insists she won’t fit into the chic clothes. Later, Bloomfield performs a forensics-like investigation on the dresses, offering yet more information about Annette.
Elan and Jonathan also have a precise miniature version of the house made by Rick Maccione of Dollhouse Mansions and often film inside it, playing with the scale of history, time, and memory and the role of the camera in recording the past. “It was plain to me that the house represented a kind of image of the psyche,” Jung wrote. But as Jonathan notes at one point, “Grandma’s house isn’t a home anymore. It’s a ruin.” And finally, Lightman asks, “Where is she?,” declaring that question to be the “great mystery of existence.” After watching 306 Hollywood, which the Bogaríns directed, produced with Judit Stalter, edited with Nyneve Laura Minnear and composer Troy Herion, and photographed with Alejandro Mejía, you’ll have a very clear picture of who Annette Ontell was — and you’ll wonder about who your own late relatives were, in addition to where they might be at this very moment. A hit at Sundance and winner of a Special Mention as Best U.S. Latino Film at the 2018 Cinema Tropical Awards, 306 Hollywood is screening February 2 at 6:30 in the Museum of the Moving Image series “2019 Cinema Tropical Festival,” which runs February 1-3 and also includes Rudy Valdez’s The Sentence, Juliana Antunes’s Baronesa, Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and Juliana Rojas’s Good Manners.