Anyone who’s ever attempted to translate an English play on words into another language knows how painfully untranslatable these things can often be, which is why it’s simply unfair to translate the title of Gabriela Domínguez Ruvalcaba’s multi-award-winning documentary La danza del hipocampo into the far more prosaic English Memory Dance. Yes, the hippocampus is the small area of the brain responsible for consolidating memory, but it’s also how you say “seahorse” in just about any Latin-derived language. In fact, the hippocampus was so-named because it looked like a seahorse to some possibly stoned 16th-century anatomist. Be that as it may, Domínguez Ruvalcaba’s poetic reflection on images and the construction of memory is full of dancing seahorses, and if you don’t get the play on words, you’re likely to just be really confused.
Winner of a Special Mention when it premiered at last year’s Guadalajara International Film Festival, La danza del hipocampo went on to play at the Morelia Film Festival and DocsDF, before screening in Domínguez Ruvalcaba’s native Chiapas as part of the San Cristobal de las Casas Film Festival last January. Mixing evocative cinematography with found footage and home videos from the director’s own childhood, La danza del hipocampo explores the nature of memory, both in scientific and highly personal, autobiographical terms.
The trailer for this essay-style documentary gives a good sense of the dreamlike flow of images, bouncing almost seamlessly between the past and present as a voiceover narration asks, “If you could choose seven moments the sum up your whole life, what would they be?” A mix of super-8 film and hi8 video footage give the faded audiovisual register of Ruvalcaba’s childhood an especially nostalgic feeling, as the blurry, imperfect images are washed over by layers of red and green – product of the medium’s natural decay. The unsettling soundtrack deepens the sensorial immersion with distant sounds of children playing, rolling tapes and filmstrips that ultimately give way to a hypnotic, naive melody played on what sounds like a children’s xylophone toy.
La danza del hipocampo may be short on explosions and firefights, but it promises to be an intriguing reflection on the mystery of memory.