‘Memory Box’ — A puzzle of memories and pictures

Memory Box
(Photo: Handouts from Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige/ Envato Elements)
 “Memory Box”, one of the Lebanese films screened as part of the Lebanese film days organized by the Royal Film Commission and directed by Joana Hadjithomas and  Khalil Joreige, is, as the title intimates, a large box full of memorabilia, which comes through the mail from the depths of time into Montreal, which is ravaged by a blizzard. It is filled to the brim with photos, diaries and tapes of single parent Maia (Rim Turki) who had spent her teenage years, in the 1980s, in the midst of the Lebanese civil war. اضافة اعلان

Despite the interdiction, Maia’s too curious daughter Alex (Manal Issa) secretly begins to study the contents of the mysterious box and comes across an episode in her family history that the withdrawn Maia was never ready to talk about.

(Photo: Handouts from Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige)

In the first few minutes, “Memory Box” makes use of multimedia visual aesthetics, with video calls and text messages popping up with a “bing” dominate the screen and the directorial work of the filmmaker duo Hadjithomas and Joreige, who are actually also at home in the field of media art. This almost deliberately contemporary style, however, soon takes a back seat to more classic media formatting when the film begins, through Alex, to bring Maia’s memories to life and thus to appropriate her story piece by piece.

An exuberant moment in war-torn Lebanon in the 1980s

First, Alex takes pictures of the analogue photographs with the cell phone camera, which Hadjithomas and Joreige in turn use as an opportunity to animate the digital photo series as small stop-motion clips. The analog and the digital, the contemporary and the historical – these supposed contradictions quickly crystallize as one of the central themes of the film.

In these first passages of Alex’s immersion into the strange life of the suddenly no longer so familiar mother, “Memory Box” also finds its most beautiful moments.

(Photo: Handouts from Joana Hadjithomas and  Khalil Joreige)

Like when, for example, volleys of rifles scorch the photo paper and carpet bombing leaves burn marks for so long that the portrayed people who are huddling closer and closer together hardly have any space left in the rectangular photo. Or when the camera locates the lost protagonist in a seemingly endlessly elongated, surreally deformed, interior space, yesterday and today, historical document and subjective experience, memory and feverish dream are impressively pushed one above the other.

A daughter’s plunge into her mother’s past

The drama is very classic: the mother does not want the daughter to dig into her past, the viewer becomes curious about what dark secret may be hidden there; at the daughter’s side, this becomes a mystery got to the bottom.

“Memory Box” manages to keep curiosity up and increase it, and then reveals, bit by bit, what Maia is trying to leave behind forever in the box that gives the title. What also makes this journey into a distant time and a foreign culture interesting is the cross-generational approach. While Maia collected all her impressions in diaries, photo albums and on tapes in her youth, her daughter is a true digital native.

(Photo: Handouts from Joana Hadjithomas and  Khalil Joreige)

Alex lets her friends take part in social media as a matter of course, as she reconstructs the secrets of her mother’s youth in Lebanon on various media.

Nice visualization of photographed memories

The two worlds – the mother’s analogue memory collection and the fast-paced communication culture in social media – merge nicely on a visual level. When Alex looks at the bleached and blurred prints, the images come to life in an animated way for the viewer. The playful way of portraying what Maia went through in the civil war in Lebanon creates a successful contrast. The horrors of war in no way lose their effect, but rather become more tangible and memorable through the translation into modern stylistic devices.

All in all, the film did not take any great technical risks and therefore has an almost documentary effect. This also ensures a better closeness to life than if the atrocities were portrayed in an overdramatic manner.

(Photo: Handouts from Joana Hadjithomas and  Khalil Joreige)

‘Memory Box’ scores with impressive musical moments

“Memory Box” has its emotionally strongest moments when the music of the 1980s effectively underscores the lifestyle of the young people in Lebanon.

Western music, which also dominated the clubs there, enabled the teenagers to shield themselves from external circumstances for a few hours. Blondie’s “One Way or Another” was deliberately chosen as a narrative bracket; if the song is then taken up again in the present, it is, on the one hand, to keep the memory alive and on the other, to mark the restart into a better future.

The figures remain a little pale

The mother and daughter team in Montreal is completed by the grandmother, who at first, like Maia, tries to keep Alex from researching. Unfortunately, emotionally, it is not always possible to take the audience on a journey into the past. This is mainly due to the fact that the actresses ultimately fail to bring to life characters with whom one likes to suffer and celebrate. Until the end one cannot get rid of the feeling that the characters are not giving free rein to their emotions and that they seem a bit inhibited. Perhaps this is also due to our stamping through the often slightly theatrical acting of Western actors in dramas of this kind. The chilled acting, however, leaves a lot of potential.

The film is a strong contribution to the topic of culture of remembrance, which draws its viewers’ attention with modern eyes to the traumatic long-term effects of youth in civil war. The last spark does not jump over emotionally, but the musical moments, the visual finesse and the meaningful, positive ending still stick in the memory.

Without effort

In addition to documentary and fictional films, Hadjithomas and Joreige also make installations, sculptures and performances, but their multilingualism is particularly good for “Memory Box”.

It is amazing how the film does not think hard, despite its multiple layers, but breathes and smiles at every moment. It is not just an essay film about memory, it also tells stories, in the here and now, as in then. It is a chaotic mashup, but also a smoothie and a touching film.

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