Memory Box – Review

One of the main themes of the Canadian / Lebanese / French film, Memory Box,  is the ways in which we record memories. In the Eighties, where the film is partially set, it was not so simple to do and required a lot of patience and organisation. It has become so much easier in the digital age. At your fingertips is a device that can easily record and organise video, photos, audio and text.

Teenager Alex is a young lady with a curiosity about her family. She lives in Montreal with her mother Maia and is close to her Grandmother. As the grandmother and Alex make preparations for the Christmas festivities a large box arrives addressed to Maia. The grandmother’s attempts to hide it away only pique Alex’s curiosity and when her mother finds it, forbidding Alex to look inside it is inevitable that Alex will find out what is inside. What she finds is the journals, photos and audio tapes that Maia made as a teenager in worn-torn Lebanon. Started a record of events to send to her best friend, the project documented her entire life during a time that saw Maia fall in love, live a full life with her friends and then see her world crumble around her.

The film looks at how memories are actually made and remembered. There is a train of thought that is explored in the film that if we do not record things to remember them then we are in danger of either forgetting the events or, just as bad, misremembering the past to an extent that it may not represent the events at all.  Maia expresses this when she describes the events that led up to her stopping the journals. The vast array of material brings back such vivid memories but she has real trouble recalling what happened after that as she has no record of it anymore.

We see things from a female perspective for a change. The film focuses on three generations of women from the same family and is able to point out the differences between them in terms of outlook and attitude but also the things that bring them so much closer together. The fact that Maia shut out her early life from her daughter causes a large part of the drama in the film. Alex wants to be proud of her heritage but is at a loss to understand so much of it due to her mother’s reluctance to open up about it.

The conflict all around them is also seen from their perspective. The male characters are secondary to the story and it is the concerns of the women that are at the forefront of the drama. Having suffered a loss several years before, the family is in a constant state of mourning which adds a great deal of strain to the family dynamic. Maia as a teenager wants and actually needs, to have as normal a life as possible. It isn’t a great gesture of rebellion but she has a curiosity about her that needs to have an outlet. The journals and the extensive photography are the perfect way for her to document and try to understand her life and the everyday chaos around her.

The film is very much a tale in two parts. The present-day elements are delivered in a very straightforward way. They mostly involve Maia and Alex in their house together arguing, talking and trying to find a way forward. This section is shot in a very straightforward way using a muted colour palette to emphasise the snowy winter setting. It is a relatively calm and quiet section with few raised voices to break the mood.

The other section of the film is set in Lebanon. the journals, tape recordings and photos are the entry point for this part. They tend to start with a static image and a voice over which then develops into something else. This can be a filmed scene that flows from a series of photos or could incorporate animated elements instead of and in conjunction with the filmed elements. Some portions, notably when explosions are involved, use techniques that make it look like the film stock itself is being burnt as the gunfire and rockets burst above the heads of Maia and her boyfriend.

There is a total contrast here to the modern-day setting. Everything is bright and colourful. A lot of the composed shots are outside highlighting both the beauty and the damage that makes up the city. It is noisy and full of life. It shows people just trying to get on and have some sort of life. This is exactly what Maia and her friends are trying to do. There is extensive use of Eighties rock music to accompany the drama which is nicely weaved into the

Memory Box is a film worth seeking out as it has a pertinent message, very strong filmmaking and some very good performances.

John McArthur
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