Review: Memory Box

Written and directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, co-written by Gaëlle Macé, the lives of three women are connected by a box that resurfaces containing notebooks, photographs and audiotapes. Starring: Manal Issa, Jade Charbonneau, Reem Khoury, Paloma Vauthier, Rim Turki, Hassan Akil, Clémence Sabbagh and Patrick Chemali.

Most young people probably happily go along, never curious about the entire life that their parents had before they came along, but if they took the time to find out, like Alex (Paloma Vauthier), they might find a story worth hearing. Here, Joana Hadjithomas dives into her own experiences, using the notebooks from her youth to explore how history gets translated by memory. It feels as though that inherent sentimentality and nostalgia likely fed into the atmosphere of the film, as despite its telling of some truly horrifying or traumatic experiences, the tone never darkens. It’s an element that will likely work for some better than others, as it opened up the potential for something harder hitting but never went down that route.

There’s an interesting discussion to be had about how generations recount their experience of war to those younger, often softening the edges but here it does feel like it could have pulled back on that to be more effective. That’s not to say there isn’t a great deal of sincere emotion in the writing of Hadjithomas, Joreige and Macé, as it’s a touching story. It simply undercuts the more serious nature of events by viewing them through a sentimental or even romantic lens. However, the choice of the filmmakers pulls much more focus to the mother, daughter relationship and how they relate to one another, as well as how the mother relates to her own past self. Watching Alex help her mother open old wounds to resolve past hurt and find peace is moving.

Despite a lot of the film taking place in the past, the style is surprisingly modern, especially given its opening use of imposed messages, typically beloved by horror films. Visually, it’s strong throughout, there’s a great use of colour and a satisfying texture to the cinematography, especially in separating past from present, with an added sharpness to the latter. There’s also a strong cast at work, Memory Box is a film full of women giving genuine, emotional and compelling performances.

Memory Box is an inventive and explorative way to journey through the memories of its filmmaker, during a troubling time in life. The translation onto screen loses some grit and the harsher nature of reality, instead becoming a more sentimental tale of relationships between generations of women. It’s moving and a well-written, directed and edited story but that choice to soften the blow of war unfortunately means that it loses out on a more impactful tone.

Verdict: ✯✯✯| 6/10

In UK cinemas & available on Modern Films from 21 January

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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