(Re)creating Rooms on Film

Four pieces of paper taped to a wall read:

Step into your room

Close the door

Close your eyes

Remember who you are

A polaroid on the wall shows a woman with her eyes closed in front of a bookcase.
Cutouts from a magazine article are taped to wall. A photo shows a still from the film The Souvenir, of the young woman protagonist sitting on her bed on the telephone. The text reads:

This London Flat is the Site of a Director's First Cinematic Love
In The Souvenir, writer-director Joanna Hogg recreates her 1980s student apartment.

Much of the film takes place in Julie's Knightsbridge duplex, teeming with books, where Julie and Anthony cook, eat, sleep, have sex, and experience all of the rollercoaster highs and lows of their tumultuous relationship. The Souvenir is loosely inspired by Hogg's own student years — but the London flat in the film is a near recreation of Hogg's apartment from that time. Hogg enlisted production designer stephane Collone to build a replica of the interiors, based on Hogg's memory, on a RAF aircraft hanger. Here, the writer-director discusses the process of bringing that flat to cinematic life.
Another section of the magazine article about The Souvenir is taped to the wall. An image shows a corner of a room, furnished with tables, shelves, and objects including a candlestick and vase. The text, part of an interview with Joanna Hogg, reads:

Interviewer: I understand Julie's apartment was a recreation of your apartment from your student days. Can you talk about the process of shaping the space from your memory?

Hogg: It was important right from when I first conceived the story, that the apartment called Flat L, be re-created. I planned to show production designer Stephane Collone the original flat but the current owners didn't want us to visit. So we had to rely on my memory of the space, a few photographs, and some very sketchy estate agent plans. This, in the end, was a blessing because piecing the flat out of my memory was a fascinating and powerful process.
A still from The Souvenir, featuring the young woman protagonist sitting at a desk with a typewriter, looking at a magazine, is taped to the wall. Below it, a block of text. It reads: Interviewer: The film has some autobiographical elements of Joanna's life, but it is also fiction. How did you go about reflecting the real-life inspiration while also making the apartment feel like it belonged to the character Julie? 

Hogg: We had many actual objects that belonged to me and some that I remembered — the art department sourced film books and VHS tapes and the Ricard Water carafe and ashtray, for example. We encouraged Honor to bring some of her own personal objects and books so she would feel at home there. She bought cushions, a patterned quilted bed cover, and some of her precious toy childhood animals.
A still from Jonas Mekas's A Letter from Greenpoint is taped to the wall, featuring Mekas standing in front of a fridge, looking toward the camera. A title of an article appears below the photo: "Always on the Move: Eric Kohn on Jonas Mekas's A Letter from Greenpoint". Below it, a paragraph reads: Greenpoint unfolds in chronological sequences, beginning in Mekas's Manhattan apartment before abruptly cutting to his new pad across the river. Mekas doesn't use an exterior soundtrack, fanciful editing, or really anything associated with conventional filmmaking. As the audience's guide, he merely selects various recorded incidents and lets them unfold as he experienced them. While no single instant reveals the big picture, viewed sequentially they depict a fervent man driven by the sheer excitement of day-to-day living. Early on, he paces through his longtime residence on the cusp of Soho, holding the camera to give us a first-person account, and glances out at the changing times. Reaching the window, we see the dark street below and small patches of whiteness in the distance. "It's snowing," he notes.
The same still as in the previous image appears taped to the white wall in this one. Below it is another excerpt from the same article about Mekas:

Mekas benefits from the adaptabilit of the digital format, which he has implemented in his work since hte late Eighties. He calls Greenpoint his "first real video work," due to the obvious comfort he now feels with the medium. From the early moments where he packages up his old home to later sequences shot throughout Brooklyn, Mekas uses digital video to record intimate moments.
The same still from A Letter from Greenpoint is taped to the wall in this image. Another excerpt from the article about Mekas appears below:

Home alone with his camera, he devours a hardboiled egg while breaking it down into an analogy for the various layers of society, portraying the world as a complicated realm of self-interests ("But it's so good," he notes, taking a bite). Busting out his frayed accordion, Mekas conducts an excruciatingly unharmonious tune, building to a solemn impromptu chorus marked by his mantra-like chanting, "My friends don't sing anymore!" This grippingly honest representation of his inner despair is possible thanks to digital video, the mobility of which allows it a continued relationship with the home video aesthetic.
More cutouts from a different magazine article adorn the wall. A handwritten note reads, Chantal Akerman's "La Chambre"

One photo shows a table with fruit and cups on top of it in front of a window. A second photo shows a kettle sitting on a stove. 

A paragraph of text reads: A16mm camera moves slowly across a sun-filled one-room apartment from the not-too-distant past. The colors are vibrant, we see a bright red velvet chair against a light-worn wooden wall. Breakfast is laid out on a circular table, half-finished and enticing. The room is humble, simple, and undeniably lived-in. Time is marked by the camera's slow 360 movement across the room, and the stream of celluloid, passing like a vertical river, pulses an irreducible beat. Some objects that stand out to me as the camera moves; the apples on the breakfast table, the color of coffee, a dark knife-like kitchen tool against a tan wall, the wall textures in-between objects, the empty surface of her bedside table, the oversized metal kettle sitting on a small gas stove, the curtains full of light draped onto a wooden bed frame. There is an Old World feeling to this room. Elements like metal, wood, fruit, and cloth lie unencumbered by bright, plastic cheap objects of contemporary culture.
Two more photos and a piece of text are taped to the wall. A photo on top shows a woman lying down on a bed, a window behind her and a chair in the foreground. A photo near the bottom of the image shows the same scene, but the woman is sitting up now, taking a bite of an apple. A cutout with text is in the middle. The text reads:

"Not only our memories,b ut the things we have forgotten are "housed." Our soul is an abode. And by remembering "houses" and "rooms," we learn to "abide" within ourselves. Now everything becomes clear, the house image moves in both directions: they are in us as much as we are in them..." -Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Another photo of the woman in bed is taped on the wall at the top of the image; this time the woman is sitting up, gazing toward the camera.

A paragraph of text below reads:

[...] to open up this dialogue — it calls on us to do some digging: to navigate our own silence and re-examine what we see. [The following text is outlined in a box drawn by pen, for emphasis]: Akerman's film does not attach itself to a genre, to a narrative, or any other film. It exists in-between a self-portrait, and portrait of a place, and through its slow unfolding, echos film's foundation in still images. It is slow enough to allow the viewer to dwell on each frame: to allow one's eye to trace, like in a photograph or painting, the lines of composition, and then just when you forget that it is a moving picture, a new frame reveals more of the world, causing the previous composition to reverberate [end of boxed-in text] in the walls of the new. To be clear, the camera is never still, it is moving at a consistent pace. Perhaps this movement gives the film a fluidity, which makes you forget that it is moving through time. All of these factors speak to La Chambre as a work that breaks open boundaries of medium and genre, a work discovering a new way to make a portrait. [The following sentence is boxed in with a pen for emphasis:] To portrait one's room is a highly intimate endeavor. I believe the spaces we surround ourselves with speak greatly to a collective psychology, and reflect the state of things.
A handwritten note on the wall reads, What do you see in your room?

Below, a polaroid shows a collection of boxes on a wooden floor. Two are red gift boxes, and some are cigar boxes.
A hand-written note on the wall reads, What have you stashed away in your room?

A polaroid above the note shows the boxes in the previous polaroid, now open so we can see some of their contents. They are filled with photo strips, polaroids, and postcards.
A hand-written note on the wall reads, What are the stories in your lineage?

A polaroid above the text shows a pillow with a black and white check border with a big heart on it with the words "Happiness is Still Homemade" in the middle. Spoons, eggs, a rolling pin, and flower appear below.
A hand-written note taped to the wall reads, What is the story inside the frame?

Below, a polaroid shows an empty white, wooden frame, thick, with ornate carvings around the border.
A handwritten note on a slip of paper on the wall reads, What are the words you've held onto?

Below, a polaroid shows a large array of overlapping pieces of lined paper, all different sizes and hues, filled with handwriting. A few postcards are mixed in too. The contain images of a planet, a drawing of a man, a row of animal statues, a paisley design, and an abstract blue figure playing an instrument.
A handwritten note taped to the wall reads, What are the images you've held onto?

Above it, a polaroid shows a large collection of photographs spread otu on the wooden floor. All contain images of people, in various poses and candid shots.

Viewing Recommendations:
The Souvenir, Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir Part II, Joanna Hogg
Creative Nonfiction, Lena Dunham
Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham
Bergman Island, Mia Hansen-Løve
Notes on Blue, Moyra Davey
Portrait d’une paresseuse, Chantal Akerman
Natalia Akerman, Chantal Akerman
Saute ma ville, Chantal Akerman
La Chambre, Chantal Akerman
Je tu il elle, Chantal Akerman
Still Processing, Sophy Romvari
Nine Behind, Sophy Romvari
Little Women, Greta Gerwig
A Letter from Greenpoint, Jonas Mekas
Photographic Memory, Ross McElwee
We Go Way Back, Lynn Shelton
The Back of Her Head, Josh Safdie

Listening/Viewing Recommendation:
Phil Elverum’s Song/Short Film on YouTube, The Microphones in 2020


  1. “This London Flat is the Site of A Director’s First Cinematic Love,” Vanessa Lawrence, Elle Decor, May 20, 2019
  2. “Women’s Day: ‘La Chambre’ (1972) by Chantal Akerman,” Noah Rosenberg, Ultra Dogme, August 3, 2020

(Re)creating Rooms on Film
by Naomi Washer