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KARLOVY VARY 2024 Proxima

Victoria Verseau • Director of Trans Memoria

“The more I work with time, the less I understand it”

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- The Swedish artist and filmmaker talks about returning to Thailand and to her memories, and to the early stages of a (never-ending) transition

Victoria Verseau • Director of Trans Memoria
(© Film Servis Karlovy Vary)

Conceptual artist Victoria Verseau has presented her feature film debut Trans Memoria [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Victoria Verseau
film profile
]
- a documentary about transition, grief, and memory - within Karlovy Vary’s Proxima Competition. After the world premiere, she spoke to Cineuropa about the artistic decisions behind this film which took her eight years to make, and the stakes involved in a deeply personal project of this kind.

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Cineuropa: Trans Memoria took years for you to make. For such a personal project, how do you feel about it, looking back?
Victoria Verseau: I actually thought I’d never be able to finish this film. It's been the hardest thing I've ever done, alongside the transition. But I basically see the film as part of it, and these two things have been incredibly difficult. The film saved me, but it also nearly broke me: it's been challenging on many levels; it’s been a roller coaster. But me and my team really helped each other.

The film is composed of two distinct timelines that also look very different: your video diary from 2012 and new footage of your return to Thailand. How did the film evolve stylistically?
At first, I had no intention of sharing those videos. I’m in the habit of recording and writing things down, for my own purposes. I’d actually forgotten about them, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the footage. I felt ambivalent about it, integrity-wise, so I kept going back and forth, thinking: “Why should I hide? And why shouldn’t I talk about the extraordinary things I've been through if it can help someone?” But, at other times, I felt scared.

Memory is also full of ambivalence, isn’t it?
Totally. Also, when I returned [to that hotel in Thailand] and documented those places, I noticed how they’d aged. The hotel has been closed down, so I couldn't visit it; they’ve torn down the shopping mall. The more I work with time, the less I understand it. It’s like it’s become even more abstract for me. So, when I went back, it felt like only a year had passed but also an entire lifetime.

These landscapes, the dead space, the empty corridors are very “dry” when pitted against water and wetness as more traditional symbols of femininity. How do you feel about such metaphorical readings of a transgender experience?
The city is located near a vast tidal area, stretching all the way to the horizon. During the day, it's totally dried up and muddy at best. But at night, the water returns, as if the place is constantly in transition… I connected with it along these lines too, so there was wetness, there were seashells. Also, in Swedish, the word for swamp is the same as the word for vagina.

The hotel is a character in and of itself, especially when it comes to memories of Meril.
It felt like the environment had its own kind of awareness, too. It almost feels like there are some things that exist but which we don't really have a word for. Personally, I doubt there’s anything [there], but I also believe it exists. Actually, I hope it does, because it gives a great sense of meaning in a demystified world. Realism can be so deafening, so I prefer to think that everything is actually a mystery.

You must have used highly amplified sound design to bring these unseen vibrations to the surface…
Yes, there’s something about cameras and sound, as technical equipment: they have a ghostly quality about them. Cameras capture time, but also sound. I was probably hoping that I’d uncover something by recording the sounds of these hotel rooms, rather than just what they looked like.

What I find interesting about art is that it doesn’t always have to give us answers. I don't think there are answers for everything and that, in itself, is very meaningful to me.

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