By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
Dialogue With a Woman Departed is a monumental film. In the ever mutating genre of the film diary, the love letter of Leo Hurwitz, American blacklisted documentary filmmaker, to his former wife, Peggy Lawson, takes the form of a four hour love poem in which the filmmaker creates not a diary of himself, but that of his deceased wife, bringing her back to life in spirit through long footage of the depression, World War II, and other world events. It’s not much a portrait of his long life partner, but an homage to her spirit, their shared views of the world, their undying relation. Hurwitz also brings his wife back to life, gives her a voice, a presence in the film, a ghostly sensation that leaks through the celluloid and takes shelter in the images of a world in crisis. For the filmmaker, evoking the memory of his wife is a way of reaffirmation of his convictions, his own particular gaze on his surroundings, both filled with beauty and terror.
The seemingly meandering or drifting away of the film in different directions responds to Hurwitz own train of thought. When creating his “film poem”, he addresses several events close to their heart, and doing so, the film is again transformed in something else, a cinematic essay of sorts. It is a relentless task, but it comes along as somewhat of a triumph, a painstaking work of communion and love that takes the shape of a tree, or nature, the elements in which the physical body of Lawson remains still rest.
Like an scrapbook where litanies and distant cries are heard, Hurwitz film is a canvas for memory and event, traversing what songwriter Van Morrison called the viaducts of dreams, to reach a place where eulogy meets personal stance. Dialogue With a Woman Departed may seem over affected or overlong, but despite its short givings, still remains as one of the most important documents of grief and love ever presented on film.