Memory connects us April 10, 2013

Every story of misfortune of exile is unique. Unfortunately, they are not isolated instances.

Tea Skrinjaric (Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology Ljubljana) reflects on Branko Istvancic's “Album” and the special program “Memory and Trauma”

Album (Croatia 2011, director Branko Istvancic)

Film is a powerful media, it has great abilities for transmitting stories, past or present ones, and even imagining future happening. And sometimes, stories are so powerful that you find yourself being 'in the film', almost as one of the characters. Before coming to Tartu to attend 10th World Film Festival, I did not expect to find a story almost the same like my own. A section of the festival I was particularly interested in was 'Memory and Trauma', which gathered films dealing mainly with post-war (Second World War, Yugoslav War) memories and traumas that came afterwards. Istvancic's Album was one of the movies in the section that made me return to my very early childhood, period from which I have no my personal memories, but memories of my parents which I adopted as my owns. This very poetic film takes us back to the time of Yugoslav war, following two families that in 1995, after 4 years of exile, return to their homes. What they find there is nothing and everything. Family Fako does not find any of things they left behind before they escaped but family photograph which reminds them, as they say, more of war than on times when picture was taken. Reminds them of horror they went through. On the contrary, the other family (family of the narrator) finds their house full of things. Not their own, but of people they know nothing about. Among other, there is undeveloped film that curiously puts up the question who is the family who lived here?

Film like a poetry metaphorically talks about people and events in a broader context which are connected with pictures we see. The past is being reconstructed, in order to continue with present, and photos here serve as witnesses. What made this story even closer to mine was when I realised that the town from the movie, Petrinja, is the same town where my parents used to live before the war started. The same place where my parents returned to, only to find empty, almost destroyed house in which they just began to live with their new born child. I recognized the streets, parks, houses, the river. And I start to pay more attention - maybe I see my house. It is still there. But nobody lives in it; and nobody wants to. Nowadays, when I go there, I try to imagine, from my mother's description, how everything looked like: where was my room, how the furniture was arranged and what colour were the walls. Should I call it 'luck' when I state that my family had choice - try to continue with their life where it stopped when the war started or have completely new beginning somewhere else? What would my life look like now if they opted for former?

...We remember only what's recorded or left on photographs. The rest doesn't exist.

Is it really true what one of the protagonists suggests us? Does it mean that my family forgot everything from that period only because their photographs and all the other personal belongings were lost or most likely burned? Post-war memory does not require physical images, because they are already deep inside one's mind. On the other hand, we attach to physical; sometimes it gives consolation, serves as a strong reminder and provides security and hope:

I thought, if we leave, I'll have the picture of our house. No one can say it's not our house. I have the documents about how it looks like and where it is.                

Memory connects us, it is what we have in common, what we share from that time, and what nobody can take away from us. Even though I was too small to remember what was happening around me, I am still aware of my presence there, at that time, maybe feeling 'lucky' that my 'album'  is different from thousands of others'.