Memory box – Berlinale review

Memory box – Berlinale review

Maia lives in Montreal with her teenage daughter Alex. On Christmas Eve, Maia receives a box containing the journals, tapes and photos that she had entrusted to her best friend when she left Lebanon. She refuses to open this Pandora’s box but Alex, who is stuck at home due to a snowstorm, cannot resist the temptation to secretly go through the box of her mother’s memories. In doing so, she unveils a troubled adolescence spent in wartime Beirut.

For years, these two artists and filmmakers have been questioning the role of memory in creating images and writing contemporary history. The pair has always shown an interest in the emotional processes associated with the trauma of war, but this time they have decided to put themselves on the line. Joana’s own journals and tapes from 1982 to 1988 and Khalil’s wartime photographs form the archive around which they build the story of Maia and Alex. Theirs is a narrative in which Alex’s experience of the aesthetics of social media is in conversation with the physical presence of images of her mother’s youth.

Memory Box starts with the note that the film is based and inspired on Joana Hadjithomas personal archives which makes the film almost autobiographical following a pattern of the two filmmakers work, that is usually centered in their own experiences and their remembrance of history. The documentary aesthetic especially in the first half of the film adds up to that. It is almost like watching a photo album along with Alex. But as the film progresses the photos and audio recordings of Alex’s mother are coming to life and by the end of the film we see full scenes from the past, as the mother who is hesitant and afraid to face her past, opens up finally to her daughter.

The nice photography and the concepts invented to connect the future and the past, as long as the snowy Canada with the sunny and seaside Beirut are the main plus of the film. Same goes for the passion of Maia for photography and the documentation of the war times of her puberty that is mirrored in the modern social media life of her daughter. The depiction of the pain of migrating and the feeling of having two lives, before and after, is realistic as it is heartbreaking. Moreover the war time is presented to us by the eyes of a teenager girl that is not understanding the meaning of the war at first, wanting to go clubbing or meet with her boyfriend. All that till the situation to get serious with the consequent lost of innocence for little Maia.

On the other hand Memory Box is not avoiding the cliches of stories similar to it, while the story of the lost boyfriend of her mother and the return to Lebanon on the final act, seems simplistic and reshuffling of ideas and personal experience.

Grade: 2.5/5

Written and directed by Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige
with Rim Turki, Manal Issa, Paloma Vauthier, Clémence Sabbagh, Hassan Akil
Country: France / Lebanon / Canada / Qatar
Year: 2021
Runtime: 100 min

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