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Short of the Week: Mati Diop's contemplative quarantine feature 'In My Room'

In My Room
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A part of an ongoing film series conducted by the Italian fashion brand Miu Miu which has works by prominent female filmmakers like Agnès Varda, Lynne Ramsay and Ava DuVernay, Mati Diop’s 2020 short film In My Room is a brilliant addition to this stellar list. Although it has been denounced as a product placement flick, Diop’s video essay is an interesting intersection of intimacy and isolation.

Filmed from the window of the 24th floor of a tower in the 13th district in Paris, Diop explores the unprecedented conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic by juxtaposing recorded conversations of her grandmother with beautiful shots of the skyline. As an indictment of modernity, the camera rarely ventures behind the towering skyscrapers that block the horizon. It chooses to fixate on these numerous apartment buildings in order to comment on how we are being hemmed in by our own constructs.

“When Miu Miu proposed to me to make a film for Women’s Tales during confinement, in the midst of a health and social crisis, I thought it was a very delicate exercise but also a challenge that confronted me with essential questions about my practice as a filmmaker,” Diop explained while talking about the personal nature of her short film. “What story can I tell now, with minimal means, alone in my studio, that resonates with what the world is going through while being intimate?”

More than the stunning visual narrative of In My Room, what strikes the viewer is actually the affable ramblings of the filmmaker’s grandmother Maji. Maji had lived in a kind of quarantine of her own for around 20 years, forced to stay in her Parisian apartment in the 17th Arrondissement. Diop plays the recordings of Maji, a chronicle of her slow decline as she grapples with memory loss. However, the film begins with an act of remembering and ultimately ends up as one. Maji talks about the regrets of her past and living through the war, declaring “The war wasn’t fun. But there was the cinema!”

While the audio narrative traverses the axis of time, the camera explores the space around Diop’s apartment during the COVID-19 lockdown. It flits from one window to another, capturing lost souls who are fundamentally fragmented and isolated. In My Room presents a society of alienated individuals who cannot make sense of their loneliness, descending to the realm of insanity while sitting at home and scrolling through their phones. We see Diop expressing her own anguish through a performance of “La Traviata”, trying to search for subjectivity in the darkness of the night. The mixture of lightning and artificial lighting offers no solutions.

The seasons change rapidly, from the sun to rain to snow, but life remains stagnant. In a remarkable scene, Diop films the sunset while a recording of Maji plays where she protests against being sent to a home for old people. As the sun disappears at an excruciatingly slow pace, Maji screams out in an anxious fervour, “Leave me in peace!” The film oscillates between the desire to connect with people and the tendency to hide in the crevices of modernity, enviously filming frantic tracking shots of birds flying outside the apartment as the ending sequence. In My Room is a piece of Diop’s identity and history that she bares for all to see, a beautiful work which manages to blend the universal with the personal.

See the film, below.

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