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The high-mindedness, unworldliness and pure strangeness of this inert docu-fiction essay give it some interest – but frankly not much. Director Sofia Bohdanowicz has created an odd semi-fictionalised account of her researches into her Polish great-grandmother, Zofia Bohdanowiczowa, a poet who in the early 60s had a passionate correspondence with another Polish writer, Józef Wittlin, author of the first world war novel The Salt of the Earth. At the time, Bohdanowiczowa was in Toronto and Wittlin in New York.
Actor and co-director Deragh Campbell plays a bafflingly dull fictional version of Sofia called Audrey, and she is shown going through the letters in Harvard’s Houghton Library, this manuscript collection being labelled MS Slavic 7. Minute after uneventful minute drag by as she placidly reads these documents. Sometimes the pages themselves are flashed up on screen. Occasionally subtitles will translate individual lines of the Polish. Audrey asks the librarian if she can make notes in pen and is curtly told only to use pencil. (I have worked in Houghton Library, and know that asking to use an ink pen is like proposing to bring in a hand grenade.)
When she is not impassively going through the papers, Audrey argues with her cousin at a family party about whether she is academically qualified to curate them. She also argues with the librarian about whether Harvard is entitled to have them at all. She has a conversation with a young man about the poetry and later they are shown in bed, lying chastely far apart, reading the documents together as if at some sort of platonic Ono-Lennon tribute seminar. It’s the least sexy bedroom scene I have ever seen.
This curious, truncated piece tells us nothing substantial about Zofia Bohdanowiczowa or Józef Wittlin – or, indeed, about anything at all.
• MS Slavic 7 is available on Mubi from 8 June.
Source: The Guardian
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