The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - MEMORY BOX | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - MEMORY BOX

memory box review
Through a memory box, a teenage girl learns of her mother's youth in 1980s Beirut.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige

Starring: Rim Turki, Manal Issa, Paloma Vauthier, Michelle Bado, Rita Bado, Rabih Mroué

memory box poster

Here’s one for you: how many photos have you taken today? Even over the last few hours, what absurd amounts of images have you amassed on your phone; the selfies, the pictures of cats, that amusingly contorted cloud shape you spotted on the way to work (which didn’t quite look as funny when you re-opened the picture to show nonplussed colleagues later)? Loads, I bet. Hundreds, even. What happens to them? If they’re not subject to the dubious posterity of social media, and if you’re anything like me, then tomorrow and the day after those images will be overlaid by even newer pics, before eventually being shunted off to an abstract digital cloud...maybe never to be revisited again. Perhaps though, along with the ease with which we can take them now, the reasons we take photographs and make videos, has also changed: to perpetuate an endless now, to engage in the present with others - instead of preserving the moment, we attempt to prolong it. A momentary craving executed by its own fleeting intensity. There is a reason why Snapchat built automatic disposability into their yute orientated image hosting, after all.

memory box review

These were the thoughts that flicked through my mind while watching Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s (with script support from Gaëlle Macé) evocative Memory Box. In this time spanning drama, the titular receptacle contains notebooks, photographs and audiotapes which were created in 1980s Beirut by the then teenage Maia (Manal Issa), and now sent on to her contemporary adult counterpart (Rim Turki), who has a teenage daughter of her own, Alex (Paloma Vauthier). Along with its ardent sense of place and detailed characters, the credibility of Memory Box’s premise is further emboldened by its real life inspiration: an intertitle informs us that the story and mise-en-scene is "freely adapted" from co-director Hadjithomas’ teenage letters and diaries 1982-1988.

memory box review

Like most of us, I couldn’t imagine a Proustian rush of teenage me, so fair play to Hadjithomas in revisiting her story for Memory Box. Her central character isn’t quite as courageous, however, as Maia prefers to leave the box and all its remnants of the past alone; the artefacts are reminders of who Maia was, but also delimitations of the person she has become. And so, it falls to Alex to secretly plunder the container... As she accesses the materials within, the film shifts to the time and places that they refer to. And in its return to Maia’s youth Hadjithomas and Joreige’s cinema emotively maximises; in stark contrast to the neutral representation of Maia and Alex’s life in modern Montreal, the depicted memories are intensely colourful and alive with teenage excitement. Pulsing needle drops soundtrack sequences of electrifying movement, involving dancing, speeding home with a boy on a motorbike, and (amazingly) sneaking out at night to watch Phantom of the Paradise.

And there is also violence: our first reminder of the precarious social contexts of Alex’s youth is when we see a teenage couple ‘parking’ (a fascinating concomitant of Memory Box is how influenced by American culture the 1980s Lebanese youth seemingly were), and the lad gets out an AK-47 assault rifle and starts showing it off in the same everyday way as you or I might flaunt a new phone app to our friends. Of course, the siege will come to define young Maia’s life, but Hadjithomas and Joreige do not centralise the war, and instead give an ensuing impression of how it impacted on Beirut’s citizens, emphasising the freedoms which were compromised. Focussing on a cast of female characters, with men suddenly conscripted or otherwise devastated, the narrative explicates the people who held a remaining society and culture together.

memory box review

As 21st century Alex reads letters, listens to C-90s, and, in one delightful touch, even scratches n’ sniffs a sticker her mother placed years ago, we are given a personal, subjective experience of an established conflict via items which have endured and survived in the same way as their author. And perhaps there is something more suggestive about a physical object, its very tangibility giving it a sense of urgency. Memory Box expounds the sacred nature of collected media; the value of pen committed to paper, the choices made with a limited roll of camera film, the all-important curation of a mixtape. Artefacts that a person commits to, and which persevere to tell their story across generations.

Memory Box is in UK cinemas from January 21st.

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