Art is often a gateway for processing the complexities of life. It offers insight into lives and perspectives both familiar and foreign. However, how much do we truly learn about the artist from the things they leave behind? This is one of several questions explored in Sofia Bohdanowicz’s sparse, but effective, MS Slavic 7.
In her latest film Bohdanowicz uses her alter ego Audrey Benac (co-director Deragh Campbell who also gives a sensational turn this year in Anne at 13,000 ft) to explore the significance of correspondence of two famed Polish poets. One of which is Zofia Bohdanowiczowa — Bohdanowicz’s great-grandmother — who was displaced after World War II and ended up in Toronto. Zofia wrote several letters to fellow poet Józef Wittlin, who landed in New York, which touched on everything from the sense of isolation their situation caused to the nature of creativity.
The bulk of the film follows Audrey as she travels to Harvard, the title refers to the library catalogue the letters are in, to conduct research on the correspondence and gain greater insight into Zofia’s legacy. As Zofia’s literary executor, Audrey toys with the idea of curating the letters into some sort of exhibit. A concept that does not sit well with her aunt (Elizabeth Rucker) who seems determined to stifle every idea Audrey has.
Navigating family and language barriers, Audrey’s quest to find meaning in the letters proves to be a far more challenging endeavour than she initially anticipates.
Similar to its protagonist, one does not find a lot of answers in MS Slavic 7. The film’s sparse and repetitious nature leaves little room for deep fact finding. However, in its pondering of family and the importance of the letters, the film proves to be quite captivating.
MS Slavic 7 is a work of art that one absorbs and meditates on. Bohdanowicz plays with the cinematic medium in ways that subvert typical conventions. Rather than having Audrey and others read countless letters aloud, Bohdanowicz displays select sentences on screen and lets the sounds of Audrey turning pages and scribbling in a book fill the room. She examines envelopes with the same linger patience of an archeologist at an excavation site. When the audience finally gets to hear one of the letters in full it comes after a rather humorous and unexpected moment.
How much Audrey, and by extension Bohdanowicz, learns about Zofia is questionable. However, that is the point. The film challenges one to ponder the nature of connection and correspondence. Can we ever truly know someone through mere fragments of their life? MS Slavic 7 is content with creatively posing the questions, wisely leaving it up to viewers to decipher what it all means.