September 5, 2008
Hear My Cry, 1991
Filmed during the breakup of the Soviet Union, Hear My Cry captures the essence of Maciej Drygas's articulate and insightful film essays on the rupture between official record and human history, the impossibility of absolute truth, and the malleable nature of collective memory. The theme of revisionist history is prefigured in the film's opening shot, a wordless sequence of uniformed officers taking turns in confiscating documents from a private residence to be destroyed at a makeshift bonfire that had been set in the courtyard. Cutting to an image of a records clerk unlocking a series of doors leading to a remote storage room in order to retrieve what would prove to be woefully incomplete archived reports on the investigation surrounding a middle-aged accountant, Ryszard Siwiec's self-immolation on September 8, 1968 during a harvest festival at Warsaw Stadium - the dossier containing only a related citation for distributing flyers containing "false information" at the public event - the juxtaposition between the labyrinthine odyssey through locked vaults and the retrieval of Siwiec's sanitized files becomes a metaphor for an altered history (implicitly linked by the idea of destruction by fire) that had been suppressed during the Cold War. A subsequent review of church records by a parish priest similarly provides an intentionally ambiguous account of Siwiec's death (albeit for compassionate reasons), listing the cause of death as an accident, perhaps in order to be allowed proper burial in a Catholic cemetery (a sanctification that is also reflected in a priest's description of a Buddhist monk's self-immolation as a spiritual act of self-destruction and creation). In both cases, the incompleteness of information creates secondary - and equally inexact - layers of truth. Protesting against Władysław Gomułka's increasing alignment with the Soviet Union that contributed to the Warsaw Pact's intervention in Czechoslovakia after a series of liberalization reforms, Siwiec had sought to expose the party's betrayal of socialist ideals under Gomułka's leadership and the folly of subjugating a nation.
But beyond a chronicle of Soviet-era whitewashing, Drygas examines the plasticity of memory in the way time deforms and sets - however imperfectly - during moments of crisis and tragedy. This idea is illustrated in the reading of Siwiec's will, as photographs of his wife and children from 1968 are intercut with present-day interviews of the children, now middle-aged, who share memories of their father and comment on the legacy of a heroism that had only been realized in the hindsight of cultural rehabilitation - his death, figuratively suspended in time, even as history has transformed to reframe his protest as an act of patriotic resistance. The refiguration of memory is also reflected in Siwiec's wife, Maria's recollections of their last Easter together, observing a distance and melancholy that may or may not have actually existed (a daughter earlier recalls Siwiec's animation especially when discussing politics with family), and in the accounts of witnesses who remember the incident only within the context of a momentary disruption from the pageantry by a mentally unstable spectator. In this respect, Hear My Cry converges towards Harun Farocki's expositions on the interrelation between cognition and recognition in Images of the World and the Inscription of War, exploring the disjunction between the captured image (seeing) and its registration (memory). Concluding with a slow motion, magnified shot of Siwiec's self-immolation captured by Kronika Filmowa camera operator, Zbigniew Skoczek, the manipulated footage itself becomes a protraction of time and signification of the image - an act of imprinting memory.