The difference between a house and a home, of course, is the life within it. In their searching, playful documentary 306 Hollywood, sister-brother filmmakers Elan and Jonathan Bogarín invest themselves and us in the difference, cataloging, over the course of a year. It involves everything within the home of their grandmother, Annette Ontell, after her death. They’re searching for the intangible, summoning up a presence, but their approach is archival. They even declare their effort an archaeological dig of the small home at 306 Hollywood in suburban New Jersey, prompting a memorable response from their mother: “That’s ridiculous. That’s fucking ridiculous!”
The Bogaríns don’t fear the ridiculous. Their approach melds the rigor of a conducted inventory — still-life arrangements of their grandmother’s many vacuum cleaners, all her chairs and even every one of her cabinets’ health and beauty products — with intuitive leaps. They create beguiling portraits of aspects of Ontell through like-colored collections of her belongings. They survey the home through the cameras they find in it. They create a dollhouse replica of 306 Hollywood and film its precisely rendered interiors, sometimes with actual-size items from around the house plopped into its tiny rooms. They deploy actors to stand around in vintage clothes mouthing along to recordings their mother had made of family chatter a generation ago. They go to Rome, to consider ancient ruins, and they stage a fashion show on the front lawn, the models in the dresses that the grandmother, a fashion designer, had sewn for herself.
The material is so personal and the approach so idiosyncratic that, at times, the filmmakers might lose some viewers. What’s this about a portal opening to the past right there in the kitchen? Did they really never notice the giant homemade telescope in the basement that they eventually scoot around the house, pretending that through it they can spy old times? But the concrete details outweigh the incantatory fantasies, and the frank, funny Ontell doesn’t just loom over the home and film — she is its star, a charming presence offering chatty responses in interviews Elan Bogarín shot over many years before Ontell’s death. The filmmakers ruminate about their memories, findings and techniques in tender voiceover, never fearing to vault into philosophical inquiry, but 306 Hollywood most persuasively shows us what once filled that home when it simply shows us Ontell, chatting away, a vibrant soul whose memory is now permanent.