In Memory Box, from co-directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, the trauma of the past resurfaces to haunt the present, as it tends to do in films. Though framed as a work of fiction, the story is seemingly a way for the filmmakers to directly engage with their own history and trauma: the opening credits point out that the feature is freely adapted from the correspondence of Hadjithomas.
The box of the title isn’t a metaphor; it is a literal cardboard box jam-packed with photographs and journals compiled by Maia (Rim Turki) during the 1982 Lebanon War before she and her mother fled to Canada. This keepsake is delivered during a blizzard in present-day Montreal, where Maia now lives with her daughter Alex (Paloma Vauthier). The teenager is curious about what sort of life her mother lived when they were more or less the same age, but Maia would prefer to keep her trauma sealed inside that box.
This picture has a tendency to be direct, with Alex plainly stating that her family spends time with ghosts and the dead – namely her grandfather and uncle, both killed during the war. This uncluttered approach indicates that the past, along with all that was figuratively and literally lost, must be accepted and even assimilated for there to be any sort of satisfying emotional resolution.
The fact that this conclusion can be seen from a mile away doesn’t compromise the efficiency of the storytelling, nor does it make it any less fulfilling, even though Memory Box holds the attention without ever being truly absorbing. Beirut of the 1980s is lovingly depicted, all hyper-stylised with a familiar (though undeniably smashing) 80s soundtrack. There’s also a nice contrast between the analogue forms of recording memories (photos, notebooks, letters) and the way in which the teenage Alex documents her life (via smartphone).
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have delivered a film that is satisfying on a number of levels and succinctly told, although it falls just short of being genuinely moving.
Memory Box does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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