Interview with Director, filmmaker Rick Hamilton
They say that the sense of smell is closely linked with memory. To me it seemed that the repetition of smelling the flowers and Gloria's cooking was part of the journey to bring Eva 'back' to her. Is it common for those who care for a loved one with dementia to surround them with familiar smells or specific scents? Conveying a scent within a film can be a challenge. What made you want to emphasize this aspect of sense memory when writing?
I did a lot of research for the film, in scientific journals, personal interviews, using my own experiences and even those of some of our cast and crew. Studies have identified a deficient olfactory sense as an early warning sign for dementia and that is starting to become one of the testing methods. The reverse is also true, with sensory stimulation showing encouraging results in slowing the disease. After all, sensory stimulation is brain stimulation. This is hardly surprising as the sense memory associated with smell is probably one of the strongest. The scent of your favorite flower, cookies baking, NYC garbage in the summer: just talking about these bring to mind specific memories. When we actually smell them, those memories can be vivid, almost like being there.
We looked at different ways to convey these senses visually, including studying my three favorite depictions of “taste” on film (which, if you’re curious, are in Ratatouille, I am Love and Julie and Julia). We did some test shoots and determined for this story, going more subtle (as with Meryl Streep eating sole meuniere for the first time) was the best approach. Lilacs are known as the memory flower and have inspired so many artists and poets. Because of the challenges you noted in filming the sense of smell, we chose to use them tactilely—feeling the leaves—to open the door to long ago memorized stanzas and hope through those associations, the audience makes their own connection to the scent of them.
Gloria is indeed making a feast of the senses, trying to incorporate them all: scent and feel of the flowers, the bouquet and taste of the wine, the lemon and olive in the ragu give it a specific look and taste. The need to include each of these elements elevates the preparation of the meal. What at first seems like a perfunctory task is of vital importance to Gloria in her attempts to reach Eva.
You mention in your cover letter that this story was motivated by a personal event in your life involving your grandmother. Do you find that much in your life and what you experience sparks what you to create? Or was it just this specific experience? Where do you go for inspiration as a filmmaker?
Of all the shorts I’ve made, this one is the most personal, which may seem odd since the characters are middle-aged women. What I discovered as I began to make films is that I can tell my stories without needing to see my physical persona represented onscreen. There are multiple benefits from this. Notably, it provides a diversity onscreen that is often lacking. But it also allows me to examine my experiences from other perspectives and create a story greater than the sum of the parts.
I tend to find inspiration in the smallest of things: an overheard comment, a random idea, trying to work my brain around a concept, something that sparks a “what if?” or an “an then…” The story about my grandmother is an obvious influence on the film I ultimately made, but that wasn’t the movie I had started planning. The original germ of the idea was about audience perception—what do we assume we know about a character before given any details about them? And how long do we hold onto those judgements, even if we start getting clues that we’re wrong? But theory doesn’t make for a good story and as events unfold, the characters start dictating what’s important to the story and pulling from my own well of experiences and making them their own. Hopefully the result is something distinctly different from myself, yet uniquely me.
The dichotomy between Gloria-ever hopeful to catch a glimpse of her life long love, and the irritated Eva longing for a past with better days was heartbreaking. One fighting the gloom and melancholy, the other fighting her mind and directly quoting the words of an author, Virginia Woolf who was known to exemplify the hardships of life. What is your connection with the writings of Ms. Woolf and what made you want to ensure that her words were spoken throughout?
Mrs. Dalloway was on my mind from the very first drafts of the screenplay because it is the quintessential “day in the life” story. Originally, the opening sequences of going to the market and the florist were much longer and had that sort of feel to them. Though that element faded in later drafts, I was able to continue to incorporate references to the book throughout the film which began to feel tailor made for it. Most obviously, the novel is about Mrs. Dalloway’s own remembrances. But early quotes from the book in the film act as a sort of dog whistle for viewers—some will latch on immediately and others might not notice. It is the same as people reading Mrs. Dalloway for whom Clarissa and Sally’s kiss speaks volumes and for others it is but a moment in a longer story.
But it was the numerous quotes from the book that were so applicable to the course of Gloria and Eva’s relationship that led to wanting to make it a prominent piece of the story. That feeling of young, unexplored and possibly forbidden love is expressed by “What is this terror? What is this ecstasy? What is it that fills me with this extraordinary excitement?” That epitomizes what it felt like to be a gay teenager—scared and thrilled, nervous and joyous all rolled into one. And of course, as Gloria and Eva begin the end of their journey, there was nothing more perfect than, “What does the brain matter, compared to the heart?”