Directed and Written by Shireen Seno
Shireen Seno isn’t joking, or being flippant, when she says Big Boy is about the tonic wonders of cod liver oil, as it sort of is. And she herself can vouch for its efficacies, having been made to drink it every day while growing up. She is now the tallest of her brothers and sisters. She is also the youngest. Her father underwent a similar regime and a similar surge of growth and is, in fact, the eponymous character. And if it comes on all gauzy and fugitive, the way memories do, it’s out of how that’s what it ostensibly is. An entire hope chest of them, really, strung together as if like pearls, or family heirlooms if you will, in this case Shireen’s, and more particularly, her father’s.
Memories of his life as a boy living with his parents and siblings in the sticks of postwar Mindoro, where every sun-baked day seemed to vibrate with the potential for benign incursions of the magical to occur, and time and again did. Memories, too, of the blissed-out inertia that occurs between transitions. Of the anxieties in finding your place as your country recuperates from its own brush with chaos and navigates its own displacement. And, more than anything else, of growing comfortable inside your own body even as it grows faster than you thought it would, leaving the rest of you behind as it does. Her father had always found his way into her work before but only here is his presence this specific, this situated. Rather than wander into one of his daughter’s stories, she’s wandered this time into his.
And she’d been, in fact, foraging in there for years. These are a mere handful of the fragments she’d been curating of her family’s oral history. But in nearly every one of them, childhood being eerily consensual, is a flicker of recognition, deepening resonances, brokering empathies. Big Boy does have a wobbly rope of plot if you get queasy from the lack of a graspable shape but it’s from the irrational un-structure that all its cathartic voltage emits. It’s not so much about memories as it is about the way memories behave and the way they look and feel and also the way they sometimes blur into their own autonomous dream soup. And much as the period detail has a severity of precision that often belies its minimalism, it gains from it, ironically enough, not a sense of historical accuracy, but an atemporal disconnect, as if we were watching home movies from some parallel world past, undercutting the homespun intimacies of the Super8 footage, not with a surge of nostalgia, as you might expect from the way it evokes at first blush the lulling voyeurism of Jonas Mekas but rather with a low hum of otherness, at turns spooky and beatific, which evokes not so much Mekas anymore but, well, Shireen’s own similarly haunted short work, all furtive rhythms with the consistency of ghosts.
Originally published at Lagarista