‘Time Suspended’ (‘Tiempo Suspendido’): Chicago Review

Courtesy of ELCCC Festivales
A carefully balanced mix of the personal and the political.

Natalia Bruschtein’s documentary about her grandmother’s life of tragedy and political struggle has been winning multiple awards, including a "special mention" at the recent Chicago Festival.

“Memory is not such a bad thing to lose,” reflects Laura Bonaparte, the increasingly forgetful, 86 year-old heroine of Time Suspended, and when you reflect that she is looking at photographs of her children, three of whom were ‘disappeared’ by the Argentinean dictatorship during the 1970s, you have to admit that she’s right. Laura died in 2013, but her Mexican granddaughter Natalia now remembers her -- and what she meant -- via video footage and photos from various periods of Laura’s life, conversations, voiceover, and most importantly memory.

Though the too-short Time Suspended is about a particular family at a particularly intense, troubled and troubling time in Argentinian history, a lot of what it has to say about memory and forgetting can be applied to many family histories. After all, Laura’s was a standard middle-class family which just happened to have been in a bad place at a very wrong time: the photographs of smiling families could be our own. This gives it a breadth of appeal which has already seen it play in festivals with a brief beyond the merely political

Much of the film was shot in the home where the former psychologist and political activist Laura, still beautiful but no longer presumably able to safely fend for herself, is staying, wearing out her days playing bingo, enjoying milk for breakfast, flirting with the camera and being irritable with the nurses. Quite rightly, she refers to herself as a heroine, in that she was one of the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the organization formed during the 1970s by Argentinian women whose family members had been disappeared by the Videla military dictatorship.

Via old interviews and images, Laura’s tragic family history is revealed: in the mid-70s she lost three children and their partners, including the parents of the director, and, following a suit she filed against the army with her former husband Santiago, he was disappeared too. Her fourth child, Luis, survives and supplies testimony here, perhaps filling in the gaps for his mother.

From early on in the film, it is clear that Laura’s memory is failing when she cannot recall her father’s name. In her 80s, Laura is now remote from the events of her own life, and though she’s often very wobbly on the details, and sometimes doesn’t recognize even herself, she is extraordinarily lucid as a philosopher, having distilled a lifetime of struggle -- and, presumably, personal pain -- into thought-provoking, lapidary phrases. But even during earlier interviews - in which she recounts authentically horrifying events such as being offered her own daughter’s severed hands as evidence that the daughter is in fact dead -- she appears to have put aside her personal pain in the name of the cool pursuit of the truth.

There is perhaps something cruel in obliging an elderly lady who states that she prefers not to look back to do exactly that, during a scene in which Bruschtein and Laura literally open up a trunk full of photos unseen for many years. Seeing an old woman looking at pictures of her dead children and not quite recalling who they are makes for potent, emotionally raw documentary cinema, but it also serves as a powerful reminder of the power of documentary to serve for when our human memories and the minds which store them, have failed and when events which must never be repeated are in danger of being forgotten.

So that even beyond its important recording of the forgetfulness at the end of the life which has, ironically, largely been a struggle against such forgetfulness, it’s here where the deeper significance of Time Suspended lies. Alejandro Castanos ever-so-gentle piano score quietly underlines the mood at several points, while the editing (Bruschtein is principally an editor) is key to keeping the narrative going smoothly and clearly beneath the potentially confusing multiple filmic sources.

Production companies: Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica, FOPROCINE
Cast: Laura Bonaparte, Natalia Bruschtein
Director, screenwriter: Natalia Bruschtein
Producers: Henner Hofmann, Karla Bukantz
Executive producer: Abril Schmucler Iniguez
Director of photography: Mariana Ochoa, Matías Laccarino
Editor: Valentina Leduc, Natalia Bruchstein, Alberto Cortes
Composer: Alejandro Castanos
Sales: Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica

No rating, 65 minutes