I am always shaken by the courage of memoir. First, in the act of reopening those creaky doors, reentering those old rooms, going back through the old files and boxes which somehow contain our lives, and trying to make sense of what was there. Then, in the act of arranging these intimate exhibits and memory-laden objects on the page, on the screen for others to behold. These actions require courage I have yet to find.
But others do have that courage, and in abundance. I’m thinking of Trevor Jimenez, director of Oscar-nominated short film “Weekends.” In the short, Jimenez rearranges his early-life experience of a fractured family in the story of three characters: a mother and father, newly divorced from one another, and a young boy who splits his time between the two, staying with his mom during the week and his father on weekends. What is important about Jimenez’s representation of this experience is that the young boy is not in the middle of his parents’ divorce; he is at the center. Shots are angled to privilege his vantage point. His dreams and nightmares of his parents’ reunion occupy space. He is the nexus of all the courage I was talking about, and everything Jimenez does with the film honors and centers around this strong little boy.
“Weekends” is hand-drawn and shaky, like a child’s sketches. The titles appear in embellished handwriting, wobbly but with ample serifs to make up for it. Its animation style reminded me warmly of the way I used to write the title of the stories I penned in elementary school. The animation will do that to you: it will make you walk backwards until you can see things the way you did when you were young. In turn, you will see the strength required to occupy that position, amid all the competing allegiances and loves and desires.
“Weekends” is also silent film. No character verbalizes what they are feeling. Instead of reinventing dialogue or putting words into people’s mouths, Jimenez makes brilliant use of other sounds to retell the tale, perhaps with the purpose of maintaining quiet reverence for the strength of the boy. One of the most brilliant, alternative uses of sound in “Weekends” is the devotion of musical themes to each parent: Erik Satie’s compositions for the mother, and Dire Straits’s “Money for Nothing” for the father. When I saw the boy’s father turn the volume up on the radio in response to the opening riff, I quickly coupled that image with footage of my own memories, of my father’s own perfunctory turn of the volume dial whenever he would happen upon that same Dire Straits song. The songs in this film will do that to you: send you searching for your own parents’ anthems. They will transport you to your own scenes of listening to your parents’ songs and trying to make sense of these complex human beings from a complicated angle.
“Weekends” is rife with symbolism. A certain courage lies in the use of symbolism, especially when it involves excavating artifacts from memory, putting these intimate objects on display, and telling a story, perhaps a new or revised story, through them. While these symbols take multiple forms — anywhere from a raccoon to a horse figurine — I want to talk about a symbolic act Jimenez portrays: the act of blowing out a fire. In an early scene, the mother leaves a pot unattended and the smoke alarm goes off; while she tries to fan the smoke away, her son blows at the alarm, in a heartrending display of care and of doing the best with what little power children have. Then, in one of the most stunning sequences of the film, the boy has a nightmare in which the top half of his mother’s new boyfriend’s head is replaced with a single candle which he tries to blow out, only for the fire to spread and engulf his house. This symbolic action will do that to you: it will make you experience that helplessness. It will make you think about impossible wishes, the fear when we realize they are impossible, and the strength it takes to imagine new ones.
“Weekends” will do all of this to you, and more. It will show you the courage of memoir, and perhaps even share with you some of its own bravery and inspire you to reopen those doors, reopen those boxes, make sense of it all.