11 Months and One Daunting Task — The Quirky Story of This Arthouse Wannabe
Two siblings-turned-filmmakers are forced to clear their grandmother’s house in 11 months. What they find is endearing and unexpected.
Oct 1, 2018
Jonathan and Elan Bogarín’s grandmother, Annette Ontell, a former fashion designer and a self-diagnosed packrat, left behind decades worth of bits and bobs in her outwardly ordinary house in Newark. The siblings gave themselves 11 months to sift through it all, hoping to get a clearer picture of who their grandmother truly was. Sweet, no? Not so fast.
In the documentary”306 Hollywood,” the siblings-turned-filmmaking duo search for memories while excavating their grandmother’s house in the months after her passing. It’s worth mentioning that Elan and Jonathan give their archaeological project a specific time frame because some whack-o funeral director told them that 11 months post-death is the expiration date for a mortal soul. And that’s the film in a nutshell instead a tender premise, weakened by ill-timed and odd spiritual tangents.
The Bogarín siblings began interviewing their grandmother 10 years before she passed away — the presence of a camera somehow giving them license to ask more candid, probing questions.
“Someone has to be the last to go,” Annette explains with nonchalance, when asked about how it feels when the people she grew up around are no longer around. She is a token of pragmatism, radiating a jarring indifference to death.
Before we can fully absorb Annette’s effortless introspection, the film cuts to interviews with a Rockefeller archivist, an eccentric theoretical physicist and finally a woman who interprets the metaphysical implications of clothing stains. Why? I haven’t the slightest idea. These untethered opinions on the persistence of spirits and the preservation of a soul makes one cry out for grandma and wince in secular confusion. The integration of this quasi-philosophical mumbo jumbo alienates the viewer and suggests that these siblings may be searching for a way to delay their own grieving.
Elan and her mother convince Annette to try on one of her old dresses, to which Annette responds by alluding to the fact that she’s too heavy to fit into the garment. Nonetheless, she goes along. Annette and her daughter wrestle with the fabric for a good while until they ultimately get the dress over Annette’s shoulders. What lingers from this sequence is not the beauty of the dress — although the garment was quite stunning — but rather the long stretch in which Annette sits stoically half dressed. The visual was uncomfortable, underscoring Annette’s lack of shame. Seventy years on this planet have done some damage to her, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Such an endearing vignette, however, is eclipsed by Elan and Jonathan’s overwhelmingly cutesy tableaus of found objects. Extraneous Wes Anderson-esque shots of meticulously-aligned tin Band-Aid boxes filled with pennies, or ones showing rows of pantyhose that have outlived World War II paint a varnish on Annette’s life that doesn’t quite match the gusto of the woman herself.
“306 Hollywood” bobs in and out of the surreal, but walks away without really saying anything. It makes a commendable effort to uncover the life of things left behind, but the overzealous arthouse direction and injected spiritual air leaves one feeling as though the filmmakers crayoned all over what might have otherwise been a beautifully intimate portrait of their late grandmother.
Email Elizabeth Crawford at [email protected].