Memento mori

If death has prompted image production since the Paleolithic age (Pigeaud, 2017), cinema has exacerbated this practice in producing and evoking new images and practices. Death has ceased to be an absolute, “the victory of time,” according to Bazin, since now anybody could “photograph those beings who are their most dear not only in their immobile forms but in movement, in action, in their familiar gestures, with a word on the tip of their tongues.” (Banda and Moure, 2008, p. 41)

Cinema, and more specifically documentary cinema, reunites yesterday’s dead to the living of today through diverse stagings. It connects the present with a past that already calls to the future and raises many questions: how to record and defy the unspeakable thing that is death? How to bring traumatic experiences to life sensorially, through cinema? How to make sense of the death of the other, to inscribe it in our own experiences? How to communicate through images and sounds the absence of a disappeared being or of a being not yet born, as in the case of perinatal grieving?


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Through sensitive, intimate, and singular experiences, the films that this layover is composed of do not treat human death and grief directly nor demonstratively. They operate through fragments, allusions, “exercises,” to quote from Pazienza, and take oblique paths, photographic ones, tangents to evoke the deceased. Several guidelines traverse these documentary films. They are characterized by a focus on a process of memorialization and of relating wherein the artists leave a diversity of traces (photographs, audiovisual testimonials), interrogate the identities of the deceased, and seek to offer him a place at the heart of a family (Vanishing Exercises, Film Me !), of a society (CHSLD) or of a culture (Mizuko). In so doing, the filmmakers reflect upon their own ephemeral existences through images, and don’t hesitate to film themselves, or even their own funerals (Film Me !). Documentary cinema responds to the erasure of memory with the creation of fixed and moving images, closely bound to the dead and addressed to the living, notably to their families who, in some cases, were unable to accompany their close ones in their passing due to the pandemic. These films appear to have a dual function: to conjure up that which is progressively erased amongst the living, and also to act as a tomb or a memorial to human beings and animals alike (Considering the Ends) .

Mouloud Boukala
Professor at l’École des médias, UQAM
Co-director of the journal

Frontières is a research and knowledge mobilization journal based in Quebec that focuses on death studies. Published since 1988, its main objective is to contribute to a better understanding of the phenomenons of the borders between life and death in a multidisciplinary perspective highlighting the dialectic and epistemological links between theory and practice. It is aimed towards an academic as well as a general public who are preoccupied by death in various fields. Over the years, the journal has addressed original themes that have many points of convergence with the films that compose this layover such as trajectories of death and grief (2020), figures of disappearance (2015-2016), resilience and mourning (2009-2010) or death and humour (2018).


PIGEAUD, R. (2017). « L’homme préhistorique et la mort », Comptes Rendus Palevol, vol. 16, no 2, p. 167-174.
BANDA, D. et J. MOURE (2008). Le cinéma : naissance d’un art. Premiers écrits (1895-1920), Paris, Flammarion.