Sometimes it is easy to forget what documentary cinema is truly capable of. More than issue-driven films, or talking head interviews, documentary can contain life, fix a sense of place, and in the case of Claire Simon’s film memoir Mimi, stop time. For Mimi Chiola, story is also a means of starting time all over again. On a warm sunny day in the seaside town of Nice, France, Mimi and her friend Claire walk and talk about her memories of the town. The sky is white and blue. You can virtually feel the heat, and smell the sea in the air. A natural-born raconteur, Mimi’s métier is memory. As she recounts how her father and mother first met (“Love at first sight, at age 42!”) or remembers her father’s death, or talks about her first encounter with her own sexuality, we listen and we see (and feel) the stories come to life. There is so much beauty in random details, whether it is a piece of white bread, or the kindness of a Catholic monk. Along the way, there are chance meetings, songs, and the occasional bit of dancing.
An audience member at a screening of the film once explained to Simon, there are three films present here. There are the things captured by the camera — people playing tennis or jogging, a man obsessed with trains. Then there are the things you see in your mind’s eye, as Mimi’s stories of love affairs, sexual desire, or an ancient French farmer named Etienne, her friend, neighbour, and sometimes gardening mentor, come to vivid life. But there is a third thing, namely the experience of your own life that becomes intermingled with that of the film, until you don’t know where you start, and it ends. This is the true magic of cinema. -DW