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Sculpting in Time

Thoughts on a film: Petria's Wreath (1980)


In the first scene of the film, an elderly woman, not yet formally introduced, walks out into a small courtyard to the rear of a house and begins her daily chores. During this act, she spies the ever-present movie camera and follows it from the corner of her eye.

At first I thought this was a flaw in the acting; a non-professional, cast by the director for authenticity, and as such unable to ignore the unnatural intrusion of the camera as she enacts these small routines. However, as the woman returns to the house and makes her way through to the cluttered kitchen, her own eye once again seem to meet that of the ever-watchful apparatus; breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge the unseen audience, only this time, with deliberate intent. In the next breath, the old woman speaks and begins her story; her attitude, genial but world-weary; her audience, those of us trapped behind the unconscious partition that separates the viewer from the viewed.

Petria's Wreath [Srđan Karanović, 1980]:

The story is already here, all around her. It's in the house and its cluttered decor; it's in her face, lined with age; it's in her voice, worn but warming. As her ailing hands hover over mementos and reminders (a photograph, her husband's violin), every possession becomes a significant prop; a relic to her life's sad journey; to the characters that we're about to meet.

As the old woman steps out of the frame, the camera tilts up to the window space. In the foreground, slumbering cats snooze silently in the warm morning light. Outside, in the middle-distance, a photographer has set up his stills camera. Just as the old woman clears the frame, a young woman, seen outside through the adjacent window, steps before the photographer's camera and effectively takes her place...

Petria's Wreath [Srđan Karanović, 1980]:

In this small moment, director Srđan Karanović has traversed the limited boundaries between documentary (the observation of this elderly woman), fiction (the story about to be told) and fantasy (the memory of the woman made real); introducing the idea of the past as a story, to be reflected on, from a distance, and the more important "meta" role that the appearance of this photographer will eventually fulfil.

It's a moment that is easily missed, but one that resonates with the same profundity as the time travelling jump cut that transitioned Stanley Kubrick's immortal masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) from the dawn of man to the infinite cosmos. The subject matter and the technical presentation might be very different to that of Kubrick, but as a gesture - as a means of transporting the story from one place to the next through the use of a very practical filmmaking technique - it functions on a similar level. It's that idea of moving between different levels of time and memory; between the physical and metaphysical, the conscious or subconscious space.


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