His best film to date, Raz Vahn’s self-made documentary Remember II gleans from Eastern European masters, such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr, to form an austere old-world-religious tone of his estranged homeland Romania. Vahn’s long take form encourages reflective observation of the land which holds dear in his heart. The objects, such as buildings, animals, people, and the city, are shot with great affection, thereby conveying feelings of cherishment and reverie. His philosophy suggests that objects endure despite the fading of memories, and thus inspire remembrance; permanent objects hold memories intrinsic and summon an experience of nostalgia when encountered—it is this phenomenon which lays central to the film’s conceit.
Beginning with a shot of Jesus on the cross, the film sets a religious tone which is not meant to overbear but to simply provide context for Romanian culture. Subsequent scenes of prayer and art within the Catholic Church don’t merely support this theme, but rather extend into the larger image of memory. By conveying activities of tradition which remain in modern times, Vahn translates history into present and thus transforms the experience of tradition into a meeting of two times: the past meets the present.
This dialectic of truth and memory persists throughout Vahn’s short piece, but never more resonantly than with his grandmother. As a source of the past, her words reveal more than mere history; they reveal a personal history as well. She shares her experiences of younger days wherein tradition, objects, and history interact. When she speaks, often in a poetical tone, a sense of nostalgia surmounts. Her experience may be clouded but the objects of the land and the activities of tradition persist, thus enduring as a physical memory—a museum of her life.
A genuine diary film, Remember II shares something in common with the work of Jonas Mekas, in particular his Reminisces to Lithuania (1972), an account of Mekas’ journey back to his homeland. Both of these documentaries share personal history and a remembrance of things past. So too are both shot on a shoestring budget–a handheld camera to intimately capture the journey. To express life bare to the world, in naked honesty and raw cinematic form, is the monument of their poetry.
The best realizations of this endeavor are Vahn’s moving sequences wielding the kino-eye, Vertov’s philosophy of the camera-eye wherein director as observer allows the camera’s unbiased vision to convey immediately one’s own. A brilliant long take of houses from the vantage point of a train car is one example of Vahn’s kino-eye movement—his subjective point of view becomes the pure image realized on screen. This technique is found in subsequent scenes, such as a voice-over conversation while driving, a cat meandering behind an elderly woman’s walk, and a garden stroll around the innocence of children and flowers. This last sequence, shot in slow motion and finishing with a still (a clear homage to Kiarostami’s Close-Up (1990)), stitches closed the final chapter of a life now lay barren in the soil. But what remains are the traditions and objects, what remains is the remembrance and nostalgia, what remains is the elegy of a voyage—Vahn’s elegy of Romania, of his Grandmother, and of Himself.