HomeMovies306 Hollywood: Grief, Loss and the Things We Leave Behind

306 Hollywood: Grief, Loss and the Things We Leave Behind

306 Hollywood
Photo Courtest of El Tigre Productions

Sometime in the middle of brother-sister duo Elan and Jonathan Bogarín’s new film, 306 Hollywood, they pay a visit to the Rockefeller archives at the family’s Hillcrest estate in Westchester county, New York. There, Elan asks the head archivist, Robert Clark, if only great families get to have their histories preserved. Clark answers firmly in the negative, suggesting there’s something almost un-American in the idea. He then goes on to show a cookie baking log his own grandmother kept in 1972. There and elsewhere during the film, the Bogaríns use an object to stand in for everything a person means to those who outlive them and though the film is meant as an “archeological dig” into their grandmother’s life, it’s really a visual memoir about grief, loss and what it means to preserve a family history.

The site of the Bogaríns‘ “dig” is their grandmother, Annette Ontell’s New Jersey home at address in that gives the film its title, a modest, single story house filled with the clutter a 94-year-old woman would collect over 67 years staying in one place. The Bogaríns and their mother, Marilyn, begin sifting through the clutter with the intention of selling the house, but after funeral director Sherry Anthony alleges that a person’s soul stays in their home for 11 months after death, Elan and Jonathan convince Marilyn–who cackles as she says they’re “both fucking crazy”–to keep it so they can try to make their grandmother “tangible” again.

They start by cataloging her things, each item filled with as much meaning as Proust’s madeleine. As Annette herself struggles to explain in one of the 10 yearly “interviews” Elan conducted with her from 2001 to 2011, she was a “packrat” with a husband who never threw anything away. They find tax records their accountant grandfather Herman prepared for long-dead clients. They find a rainbow of old toothbrushes, three vacuums, their grandmother’s address book with the names of the dead crossed out, two more vacuums and countless more items. All in all, they find a century’s worth of family history. “Her objects are no longer for use,” Jonathan explains in voice over, “they’re for telling stories.”

Indeed, the Bogaríns haven’t made a straightforward documentary, but a visual memoir of their grandmother’s life and their grief over losing her. The siblings don’t just show us the things they find in the house, they evoke their meaning. They don’t just find linens she folded, they find, “the creases from grandma’s perfect folds.” As archeologist Jan Gadeyne talks about what he can learn from examining the “remains of [a civilization’s] pottery,” the camera pans over shelves of Annette’s best china, as if her dishware had the same value as those from antiquity.

Moments like that convey just how much the Bogaríns loved their grandmother, but perhaps their most striking use of their things are the dresses she made. A fashion designer by trade, Annette would make beautiful dresses for the glamorous women of Manhattan and then use the extra fabric to make the same dresses for herself. We first get a glimpse of the garments in one of Elan’s yearly videos, an unedited, rather uncomfortable scene where she and Marilyn convince Annette to undress and try to fit into one of her old dresses. The moment feels intimate, almost like we’re intruding on a private family moment, but it’s also the kind of moment that feels familiar, comfortable to anyone who spent lots of their childhood with a grandparent.

From there, we meet fashion conservator Nicole Bloomfield, who lovingly examines the dresses. Every stain or rip she finds tells a story about Annette’s life. Still, they don’t really come to life until the next, fantastical scene, when women come strutting out of the house in each dress. It’s a jarring, avant garde choice, but it only becomes more surreal and beautiful when the women take the dresses off to reveal-‘50s era undergarments, drape the dresses across their arms like capes and begin to dance. It’s a totally strange scene (particularly when a car passes between the dancers and the camera), but a moving tribute to Annette’s artistry that culminates in one of the film’s best moments when, after stating in voice over that the dresses are her grandmother’s exact outline, the dancers move aside to reveal Elan wearing one, her expression proud and glamorous.

Still, as wonderful as that moment is, there’s also a remove to it. When Marilyn wants to express her grief and shame over not being at the hospital when Annette died, she cries, but Elan and Jonathan are not so open. Their loss and sadness are always filtered through their art. They approach their grandmother’s things academically and present her life with an almost ironic remove.

Sometimes those choices don’t quite work. For instance, the “portal” that Jonathan says opens in the kitchen that transports him and the viewer back to Rome, all of it viewed, through an upside down camera lens. It’s supposed to be an expression of his grief, but the digression doesn’t really go anywhere or if it does, it’s not made explicit enough. It’s only when something drastic happens that their grief breaks through. Take the moment when one of Elan’s yearly tapes breaks, the image of its innards splayed out on the table feels like a crime scene photo, a perfect visual metaphor for the slow loss of memories and the way things keep Annette “tangible”.

306 Hollywood is about memory, but it’s also somewhat less transparently about grief. Elan and Jonathan largely avoid expressing direct emotion. Their loss is wrapped up in their distance as artists or filmmakers. They talk about their grandmother’s things, the fashion magazines, the mold on everything, even the dresses she spent her life making. The closest they come to conveying their sense of loss is through their realization of absence and even then, it’s almost exclusively through the objects they obsess over. As Elan watches one of the 10 videos she made of her grandmother, seeing herself walk into frame to adjust the microphone Annette wears sparks the desire to reach out and touch her grandmother once more.

Moments like that are perhaps not as accessible or familiar to an audience as watching the Bogaríns make and eat the cookies Robert Clark’s grandmother so meticulously logged, but they’re just as poignant and full of loss. The tribute the Bogarín siblings have made for their grandmother may not be recognizable to every audience member, but grief by its very nature is personal, only experienced by those who feel it. How bold the siblings are to let others experience theirs.

Rating: 8.5/10

306 Hollywood is now playing in select theaters.


Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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