My House Without Me

My House Without Me


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Despite (or because of) her background in journalism, Magdalena Szymków’s cinematic debut is a deeply textured and sensitive documentary, which examines the ghastly and contradictory realities of imperialism through the testimonies of two women displaced and resettled during and after the Second World War. As its title suggests, My House Without Me (Mój Dom) foregrounds the personal and the domestic against wider socio-political upheavals that defined the lives of ordinary people of multiple nationalities across Eastern Europe during the war.

In 1939, after Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east weeks after Hitler’s Nazi Germany had done so from the west, Janina was exiled to Siberia, aged ten. When she returned to Poland six years later, she was relocated to Stettin, a German city 1000km west of her birthplace that was obtained by the Polish from Germany at the end of the war. Janina’s testimonies are juxtaposed with those of Stettin-born Annemarie, who was only relocated at the end of the war, as a result of the Soviet- Polish occupation, to West Germany.

While Annemarie is able to corroborate her memories with documents and possessions retained from her pre-war Stettin childhood, Janina’s photographs and family heirlooms were all lost during the war. In the absence of such materials, Szymków complements her testimonies by projecting archive footage onto the interior of her present-day home, reinvigorating the space with the textures of collected (and collective) history that for Janina constitutes a personal history of absence and displacement. She tells in voice-over of her deportation to Siberia, as various archive images overlap, via slow dissolves, into an abstract, disorienting whole. Later in the film, Annemarie recalls how at the end of the war she and other children begged not to be deported; she does so as she turns a rolling pin over bread, and archive footage of Soviet troops marching into Poland is looped. The domestic is social; the personal is historical; the subjective is objective.

If the approach to representing trauma comes down to a choice between Lanzmann’s complete rejection of archive footage on the one hand and a kind of dramatisation or historical re-enactment on the other, My House Without Me intervenes somewhere in between. Taking inspiration from artist video and installation work (visually, but especially editorially) Szymków interweaves her subjects’ testimonies to paint an image of ongoing loss: here, their respective dwellings are haunted by incomplete temporalities whose material base (the economic and political imperatives of imperialism) are heightened and prolonged still today (by the USSR’s post-war annexation of land and its subsequent censorship within such territories).

Reviewed on: 02 May 2013
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A documentary looking at two women permanently displaced as a result of the Second World War.

Director: Magdalena Szymków

Writer: Magdalena Szymków

Year: 2012

Runtime: 28 minutes

Country: Poland


Bradford 2013

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