The Day The Sun Fell

Aya Domenig

Switzerland, Finland 2015,78 min.

The personal documentary is almost a genre of its own within documentary films. The documentary festival at Thessaloniki screened several such films, among them Dutchman Tom Fassaert’s A Family affair. This film, which also had the honour of opening the Amsterdam Documentary Festival some months earlier, describes the director’s attempt at understanding and getting to know his grandmother, a former model who several decades previously left her two small sons behind to relocate to South Africa.

A Family Affair is a fascinating portrait of a show-off, and, at times, very manipulating person who is hard to pin down, and a film which takes several unexpected turns. Not least when the main character tells the film maker, her own grandson that she has fallen in love with him.

During the seven years of American occupation, it was illegal, in Japan, to speak in detail about the nuclear bomb and its adverse effects.

In the best of families. A Family Affair is an example of how the strength of a personal documentary lies specifically in the personal. How to use your family as an example to tell an interpersonal, and, at times, a psychologically-founded story. Despite the eccentricity of Fassaert’s family history, many will find it captivating and some might even identify with it. Quite because of it, one might say. Because we have all felt weirdness – also in the, seemingly, best-adjusted of families.

The Day the Sun Fell, also screened in Thessaloniki, is similarly a personal documentary – yet again with a film maker seeking out her grandmother. At the same time, the film demonstrates how a personal documentary can stretch far beyond personal business, to encompass very important historical and political events.

The grandfather’s story. The film’s Japanese-Swiss director, Aya Domenig, lives in Switzerland, but her family is from Hiroshima. Here, her grandfather worked as a young doctor during the war, and during the morning of Monday August 6, 1945, just as the USA dropped the nuclear bomb named «Little Boy» on the city, he left his countryside home to embark on his weekly commute to work. He only returned to Domenig’s grandmother ten days’ later, but never spoke about his experiences.

548262754Some years later, he died from cancer, quite possibly connected with the radiation he was exposed to. Not even during the post war time years did he ever speak about what must have been very demanding days, when he was trialling treatment on the many horrifically injured – not even to those closest to him. In the film, Domenig visits her grandmother, now also sick from cancer, to see whether she are able to explain anything about the bomb and the time afterwards. The grandmother is one of several central characters in the film. The director has also been able to speak to medical staff who had been present in a similar way to her grandfather. Not least a charismatic former nurse, who proves to be a lucid voice in the silence which alarmingly is allowed to rule this country, if this film is to be believed.

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