The memory is a subjective entity that is so personal and biased that it often becomes difficult to distinguish memories from complete imaginations. The idea of the intersection between the memory and the imagination is probed in the Austrian/German film “The Impossible Picture” by Sandra Wollner (“Viktor”). The picture is constructed in disconnected narrative fragments, almost vignettes, of everyday life in 1950s Vienna in a home where a secret women’s circle emerges. The title itself probably refers to the way that it is not possible to ever get the “full picture” of life, due to this subjective nature of memory, which beguiles the mind, making memories themselves unreliable.
The memory is not the only unreliable player in “The Impossible Picture.” Its narrator is unclear and switches, creating an ominous and ambiguous tale that makes it difficult for the audience to understand whose story is being told and who is telling it. Characters talk in code, obsess over death — especially the children — and question their existence. Formally, the home video style, shot on 8mm film, makes the characters seem close to us. We get an intimate peek into their lives, which are filled with mystery and taboo. The home video camera narrative produced by this shaky-cam, grainy film effect is joined by broken dialogue that cuts in and out. Together, these formal elements succeed in inserting us into the space of the private home, though Wollner may have brought us too close.
Wollner doesn’t hold back in displaying visceral and graphic images on screen, from dead animals to bloody innards and queasy subject-matter. With these aesthetics, Wollner creates a creepy dissonance, especially with the lack of a reliable narrator, which causes the audience to lack trust. Johanna, the possible narrator, says herself, “Memory is unreliable, it might as well be the future.” These existential doubts and questions were present on the screen, but they were too present. The film pushes almost too far in the abstract that it causes it to be hard to follow. A classic experimental film that leans maybe too far into the experimental, “An Impossible Picture” is an attempt to scrutinize the span of the memory, but it leans a bit too far toward the abstract for any real conclusions to be drawn.