Credit: FIDMarseille
by Öykü Sofuoğlu Featured Film

Grandmamauntsistercat — Zuza Banasińska [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 1, 2024

“Through looking you need to see the truth,” says a warm and confident male voice, “that a woman is a well-made face and dress, as well as accessories.” Thankfully, for many of us at least, this kind of statement ceased to be considered truth ages ago, but the residual definitions of social, sexual, and gendered categories still continue to shape our perceptions of other people and of our own selves. Regarding so-called truths about women, family, and scientific discourse, Zuza Banasińska’s Teddy Award-winning short, Grandmamauntsistercat, operates on a double movement — going back to basics by asking simple yet fundamental questions and answering them with a network of signifiers made of far-fetched and surprising connections — meaning that there’s no answer with a capital A.

Visual excerpts appropriated in the film come from the archives of the Educational Film Studio in Łódź, where, as the name suggests, filmmakers were engaged to make films for educational and scientific purposes that served communist state ideology, and which also served as source material for another recent Polish film, Kuba Mikurda’s Solaris mon amour. Through a bemusing and playful approach to various subjects such as patriarchy, gender roles, the so-called neutrality of scientific discourse, family, folkloric figures, and myths, Banasińska recontextualizes these ideology-laden images without decontextualizing them by revealing how blatantly coded they are. While the filmic fragments serve as both material and tool, it’s the fictitious narrative about a matriarchal family — told from a child’s perspective — that establishes the locus of the meaning-making process.

The little girl we hear in voiceover throughout the film draws a vague and speculative portrait of herself and her family, composed of her grandma, her mother, her aunt, and the cat, whose corresponding depictions are made through a small clip where a group of doctors stand beside an operating table. This is by far the least incongruous association between what is said and what is shown that Banasińska indulges in making. In viewing the subjects of scientific and medical scrutiny throughout history — measured, operated on, dissected, and observed by the machines and tools in men’s hands — Banasińska invites us to forge connections between the natural realm — minerals, plants, but mostly animals — and women. Recurring images of insects or snakes, which invoke metamorphosis, as well as depictions related to birth and growth processes add an extra layer to the film’s emphasis on intergenerational transmissions among women.

Images and the accompanying voiceover narration demonstrate how beings, things, and concepts are not defined by innate and fixed characteristics, but are shaped and changed through social and political circumstances. Baba Yaga, a figure from Slavic folklore originally described as a matriarchal goddess but later reimagined as the evil witch we know today, is used in the film as the epitomizing symbol of these politically and socially fueled transformations. The little girl who takes her mother to kindergarten, the grandma said to have paws, and the auntie who used to bite walls like a mosquito: Grandmamauntsistercat speaks to the viewer in its own idioglossia; the images and sounds feel uncannily familiar, but they don’t necessarily mean what we expect them to mean.

Unlike many experimental found-footage films that heavily rely on the visual aspect of appropriated material, Grandmamauntsistercat stands out with remarkable sound design that equally, and oftentimes more effectively, contributes to the meaning-making and -breaking processes. Alongside the little girl’s disconcerting voice, which at times feels like that of an evil child protagonist from horror movies, Grandmamauntsistercat is truly an audio-sensory experience. Enhanced with textures and depth, gurgling, buzzing, cracking, and screeching sounds following one after another, showcasing editing as impressive as its visual counterpart, the film is wrought into something like an organic being; expanding, growing, and provoking us with mind-boggling questions while also gnawing at preconceived and obsolete ideologies.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024 — Dispatch 1.