Director: Grant Gee
Cast: Orhan Pamuk
Watch Innocence of Memories online in the UK: BFI Player+ / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video
Cities are funny things. On the surface, they’re a web of zig-zagging lines that have names and labels. But once full of people, they take on another life entirely, as each resident or tourist attaches their own experiences to objects or landmarks; the universal A to Z is replaced with your own emotional schema, which nobody else can navigate. Turn right at your first kiss. Cross the bridge by your late grandma.
If that sounds like a weird way to start a film review, wait until you see Innocence of Memories; the film itself is an oddity that defies normal description. Based on Orhan Pamuk’s best-selling novel The Museum of Innocence, it tells the story of a doomed affair between Kemal and Fusun. Now, though, years after he was set to marry someone else, he still lingers on thoughts of her.
This is no conventional drama, though. It’s closer to a documentary, taking us on a tour of the city of Istanbul, while Pamuk narrates the emotional fallout over the top. The sadness permeates everything, from his soft voice-over to even glimpses of him on the TV through windows in the background.
As the recollections are retold, we’re treated to a parade of objects and keepsakes from their affair, from dresses and shoes to even cigarette stubs – the kind of things that, yes, Pamuk really did use to create an exhibition of this relationship, echoing the character’s actions in his book; less a museum of innocence and more a mausoleum of heartbreak.
As a meta-study on the way we horde bric-a-brac and curate our own lives through possessions, there’s much to savour here – although as a film-viewing experience for many viewers, there’s just as much to confuddle. But if you can get into mood for a meditative stroll through someone’s internal art gallery, there are moments of mesmerising beauty from the movie’s combination of literal visuals and abstract commentary. Pamuk describes the city as a “galaxy of sighs”, just as we see a night-time shot of the dark skyline, with twinkling lights exhaling tragically into the rest of the frame. At one point, we see a map of Istanbul’s streets, coloured red and labelled with (fictional) biographical events; a charting of forbidden passion across a city. It’s in these brief seconds that the film resonates, offering something we could never witness in real life: the literal mapping of emotion.
Innocence of Memories is available on BFI Player+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription – with a 30-day free trial.