Following the brilliant, witty but somewhat uncharacteristic ?O, Zoo
! (The Making of a Fiction Film)
(1986), Philip Hoffman made the remarkable experimental documentary passing through/torn formations. It is arguably his most ambitious work prior to What these ashes wanted
(2001). Sprawling and complex, passing through resists attempts at summary and interpretation in a similar way to other key Canadian avant-garde films, like Jack Chambersí The Hart of London
(1970). As is usual in his films, Hoffman places the construction of meaning in the foreground, playing with combinations of sound and silence, image and blackness, visual metaphor, different film stocks, multiple exposures, and so on.
passing through uncovers the history of Hoffmanís motherís family, their tangled relationships and the reasons they made the passage to Canada from their home in Czechoslovakia. The course of his investigation takes him back to the Old Country to meet relatives who remained in his ancestral village. Hoffman reveals the lingering effects of war and epidemic, and displacement and migration that have persisted over generations, like the insistence of the repetitive notes of Tucker Zimmermanís accordion-based score.
The inference in passing through is that a perpetually conflicted Canadian identity may be as much the result of traumas experienced by its immigrant population as the French-English split; histories which leave an important segment of the population unbalanced and unable to assert itself in public life.