“Being an artist you have to abandon any notion of things making sense.” Maria Irene Fornes makes this comment late in the film despite living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is fascinating to observe Fornes’ openness, thoughtful insights and observations and this is despite of her severely diminished memory. Her sister observes that she may have diminished memory capacity but her feelings are intact and her personality exists in these feelings.
Maria Irene Fornes is either described as “the greatest writer you’ve never heard of” or dismissed as “Susan Sontag’s ex-lover”. A founder of Off-Off-Broadway experimental theatre, Fornes is known as ‘Mother Avant garde’ in the Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre world.
When writer and director Michelle Memran realised dementia was causing the once-prolific playwright’s faltering productivity, she began filming their time together. She asks Fornes about no longer writing and she replies that talking to camera is like writing. This film is recorded over several years and is really a collaboration between Memran and Fornes, one mostly holding a camera and asking questions and the other creating stories and making wonderful playful observations. One of Memran’s frequent lines is “tell me a story.” On one occasion Memran uses this line as two small boats pass by and Fornes launches into a simple and charming tale. On another occasion Fornes confuses her original meeting with Memran to the time she first met Susan Sontag.
There is also a straightforward documentary contained within this film. It is the story of Fornes leaving her Cuban birthplace, discovering New York and the theatres, galleries, cafés and poets of Greenwich Village, becoming part of this community through her art, and a return to Cuba. Fornes applied the techniques of the Actors Studio, such as experimentation, embracing the feeling and embodying the experience, to her writing and later her teaching.
THE REST I MAKE UP is a charming and interesting film. The different components are fascinating. There are the discussions about creativity, theatre and writing, there are the old films and photos from Cuba and Greenwich Village, a moving exploration of dementia and the need for independence and most of all Fornes captivating personality, her delightful humour her passionate approach to life.
Queerscreen presents THE REST I MAKE UP at Events Cinema, George Street, on 24th February as part of the 2019 Mardi Gras Film Festival.