all water has a perfect memory

2001
Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Natalia Almada
Directed by Natalia Almada
VHS, color, 19 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Biography, Film Studies, Gender Studies, Women's Studies


Reviewed by Jean OíReilly, University of Connecticut

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 


This no-budget, experimental documentary is remarkable for the care with which it has been assembled. It could easily serve as a course text in its own right, or as a lesson in economical filmmaking.

Director/cinematographer/editor Natalia Almada, whose older sister Ana Lynn drowned when Natalia was seven months old, has created a film that attempts to capture the memories her parents and older brother have of the tragic event and its aftermath. Made with ďno money and no crew,Ē as Almada explains in her September 2002 interview for the Sundance Channel (which ran the film as part of a program of Latino shorts), all water has a perfect memory is a well-crafted film with good production values, thoughtful editing, and an unhurried pace.

Almada began her project by arming her father, mother, and brother with a tape recorder and asking each to make a recording about Ana Lynn. Audio clips from those recordings form the core of the film, with the accompanying visuals assembled from the familyís home movies and photographs, interspersed with fabricated images (swimmers, various shots of water, sewing machines at work) that connect in some way to the audio. Because some of the audio clips address Almada directly, the film has the feel of second-person narration, drawing the viewer in as a member of the family. Like Almada, we are connected to the event but have no memory of it, and we hang on the words of those who do remember.

The film is also an exploration of the experiences of a cross-cultural family. Almadaís mother is American; her father, Mexican. The film progresses in bi-lingual fashion, the father speaking in Spanish (with English subtitles) and the mother and brother speaking in English (subtitled in Spanish). The events surrounding Ana Lynnís drowning reflect the familyís cultural divide: the mother is in Chicago when her daughter drowns in the family pool in Mexico, and she worries that she wonít make it back in time for the funeral, unsure of the burial customs of her husbandís country. The fatherís immediate, deep grief contrasts with the motherís apparent detachment and eventual emotional explosion. All three family members have different ways of talking about the girlís death: the father repeatedly refers to profound feelings he cannot articulate; the mother describes the details of the event (the smell of flowers, the casket details) and then admits to howling in agony; the brother, too young to remember much of the event, recalls the advice given to him by his elders. What emerges is a picture of the isolation the death of a child or sibling brings to the survivors, and also the isolation that sometimes occurs within a cross-cultural family. The viewer isnít surprised to learn that the family broke up some time after Ana Lynnís death, two events that are closely connected in the brotherís mind.

Two of the filmís recurring images, a slow pan across a rare photograph of the entire family together (a photograph never fully revealed) and a close-up of a sewing machine needle slowly stitching up fabric, remind the viewer that this is an imperfect memory, constructed from three different recollections and controlled by the one family member who has no memory of Ana Lynn or her death.

all water has a perfect memory is strong in both content (which is complex for such a short film) and structure (which is both simple and complementary). The film seems quite versatile, and could work well as a video text in courses that reflect upon autobiography and memoir, narrative structure, cultural differences, gender differences, or family issues. It also provides an illuminating example of what a talented filmmaker can do with a camera, a compelling story, and some imagination.

Awards

  • Golden Plaque Award, Chicago International Film Festival
  • Best Documentary Short, Tribeca Film Festival
  • Honorable Mention, Cleveland International Film Festival
  • Audience Award, African American Women in Cinema