Home When You Return
In the first shot of Home When You Return, a woman’s face stares out at us from the presence-absence of the haziness enveloping it. The same spell contaminates the letters of her name, then, paintings and a photograph. It is broken only during the final credits where the identity of two women is revealed: Joan Thurber Baldwin, born in 1927, and Mary Patricia Wuest, born in 1932. The first was an amateur filmmaker, the second Carl Elsaesser’s grandmother. Two almost anonymous lives with no standing, despite their essential social function. In a letter removed from the back of a painting, the filmmaker’s mother describes her own mother’s final days. Her words evoke a loved and loving matriarch, while the music conjures up the emotional landscape of a melodrama in which her own mother could have been the heroine, filling the vacuum left by these irremediably unrecognised women. In his grandmother’s deserted house, now up for sale, Carl searches for the traces of an existence that seems to be maternal, domestic, hard-working, but unpaid. To be sold at a higher price, the house should be renovated, its archaic ornaments cleared out, and its past obliterated. Carl Elsaesser resists this inevitable erasure by physically occupying the space like a shadow, acting out the roles of the two women by playing both the filmmaker and homemaker. Combining the material he has produced with that of Joan Thurber Baldwin, he composes a composite film steeped in respect and admiration.
Carl Elsaesser (1988, USA) graduated from Hampshire college and University of Iowa. He lives and works between midcoast and interior Maine and Brooklyn, NY. He has made several short films which have screened at festivals in New York, Berlin, Michigan, Amsterdam, Korea among others. In his work, Elsaesser mixes genres and materials to produce work that “critically investigates the overarching presence of the historical without losing sight of individual experiences of human connection.”