In a way, it's both. Every day that passes, we think back on the preceding days. Memories can sometimes be so intense that we can barely distinguish them from the present. Other times they are mere fragments that seem like fleeting dots of light in the sky. They are somehow a part of us, and are signposts, warnings and hopes all at the same time. Yet for a brief instant we lose the present moment and gain something that will always serve as a reminder.
In film, 'flashbacks' are a popular and necessary means of narrative structure. They take the viewer to an earlier point in time than when the film is set. Simple reality is briefly interrupted and the viewer gradually develops a certain distance to the flashback. The cuts are perceived unambiguously and the linear narrative structure is altered.
A famous example is provided in the film Casablanca (1942) in which Humphrey Bogart's character reminisces on past times in Paris. The camera slowly zooms in closer on his face, the image becomes blurry and then changes: Paris. This transition scene from reality to memory unfolds over a period of about 15 seconds.
But memories can also be full of torment, recalling traumatic childhood experiences and triggering terrible anxiety. The film The Pawnbroker (1962) contains many such memories of the main protagonist's time in a concentration camp. The memories appear very abruptly - they are unexpected and terrifying. In this case, flash-cuts are employed. Rapidly-changing shots symbolize unwelcome memories that burst in unexpectedly – they seem to establish a voyage into the past. Followed by long scenes, these tortuous anxieties become reality.
We are looking forward to discovering how memories are dealt with in the Berlinale films Jess+Moss and El Chico Que Miente.