VOD film review: Memory Box (2022)
Memory, emotion, communication8
Matthew Turner | On 22, Jan 2022
Director: Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige
Cast: Rim Turki, Manal Issa, Paloma Vauthier, Clémence Sabbagh, Nisrine Abi Samra, Hassan Akil, Rabih Mroué
Co-directed by Lebanese filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (A Perfect Day, I Want to See), this powerful drama begins in present-day Montreal, where teenager Alex (Paloma Vauthier) takes delivery of a package addressed to her mother, Maia (Rim Turki). Alex’s grandmother, Teta (Clemence Sabbagh), becomes agitated when she sees the return address, and attempts to keep Maia from knowing about the delivery, which piques Alex’s interest, leading to her opening the box herself.
It turns out that the box is full of letters, cassettes, notebooks and photographs that Maia sent to her best friend Liza in the 1980s, after Liza’s family left war-torn Beirut, leaving Maia behind. As Alex sifts through the Memory Box material in the present day, her mother’s teenage years come alive, and flashbacks reveal Maia’s (now played by Manal Issa) first love with Raja (Hassan Akil) and the deep family trauma inflicted by the death of Maia’s younger brother.
Filmmakers Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas (the box contains several of her own photos, letters and notebooks) have worked across a variety of artistic media, including gallery exhibitions and art installations. That background leads to an inspired directorial touch in the depiction of the box, whereby the photos blend with animation, transitioning into the flashback sequences.
The editing is exceptional, with Maia’s memories and experiences echoed and reflected by Alex’s actions in the present, as offers a running commentary on the box’s contents to her WhatsApp group of friends. The film is also beautifully shot, with Josee Deshaies’ striking cinematography giving the flashback sequences a nostalgic warmth, despite the ever-present background of bombs and armed forces. That’s contrasted with a more muted tone for present-day Montreal, with an ongoing blizzard for added thematic resonance (a chaotic coldness that will eventually melt away as the film progresses).
The performances are impressively naturalistic, to the point where it frequently feels like you’re watching a documentary. To that end, the relationship between Vauthier and Turki is genuinely touching: Alex’s response when Maia eventually confronts her is moving, essentially forming the heart of the film in its attempt to forge a previously absent mother-daughter bond.
Hadjithomas and Joreige are also keenly aware of the power of music when it comes to evoking memory and shared experiences, most notably during a sequence involving Blondie’s One Way or Another that will leave you with a heartwarming nostalgic glow.