LeftLion – Movie Review: Memory Box
Directors: Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige
Featuring: Rim Turki, Manal Issa, Paloma Vauthier
Operating time: 102 minutes
Like their previous film and exhibition collaborations, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (a perfect day, I want to see) join forces to face the dark legacy of civil war and ongoing conflicts in their homeland, Lebanon.
The action begins on Christmas Eve in present-day snowy Montreal, when a large, unplanned box arrives containing photographs, notebooks, newspapers and tapes from France. The objects are all souvenirs of Maia (Rim Turki), sent from Beirut to her friend Liza in Paris during the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s. Frightened by long suppressed secrets and painful memories, Maia and her mother Tata (Clémence Sabbagh ) forbid Maia’s daughter, Alex (Paloma Vauthier), from seeing the contents of the box.
Despite the warnings, of course Alex goes ahead and immerses himself in the material of his family history. Thus, she learns all about Maia’s adolescence (played in flashbacks by Manal Issa), the torments and clashes with her parents, but also the astonishing joy she experienced at a time when not only cell phones were lacking , but where there was the context of war – with constant shelling and dangerous checkpoints run by militias.
Memory Box’s closing scene resonates with literal luminosity as the sun rises over Beirut, the city at the center of the feature film.
Blurring the line between fiction and documentary, co-director Hadjithomas drew inspiration from her old communications with a close friend who had moved to France during the Lebanese civil war. Every month, they exchanged a box of memories, from thirteen to eighteen years. After 25 years, Hadjithomas’ friend returned the correspondence and some of the materials are seen in the film.
Throughout, these various media (digital, analog and print), as well as various cinematic textures (8mm and 16mm images), inventively deliver a powerful beauty of archived history. As Maia’s adolescence is framed through Alex’s perspective, the film shows reconciliation between mother and daughter, while providing a platform for connection and critique across three generations. On a personal level, the production process allowed the filmmaker to revisit buried memories and thoughts surrounding the implications of denying or allowing her daughter access to her teenage war memories.
Alex’s identity becomes accustomed to his discoveries and reduces his distance from his mother’s and grandmother’s secret. memory boxThe final scene resonates with literal luminosity as the sun rises over Beirut, the city at the center of the feature film. With his new knowledge, it’s up to Alex to use and share in his own way. Encouraged by the outstanding performances of the cast, this film will spark important dialogues for families who may finally be willing to share stories and trauma. War and trauma will always be an uncomfortable subject, but when approached sensitively, the conversations are essential for generational progress.
Memory Box is on view at the Broadway Cinema until Thursday, February 24