Review: Fragile Memory

Written and directed by Igor Ivanko, co-written by Mariia Ponomarova, a young filmmaker Ihor finds a hidden and unpublished photo archive of his grandfather Leonid Burlaka, a famous Soviet cinematographer. Discovering a man that he never knew well enough through the damaged pictures, he gets closer to his grandpa suffering with dementia, facing the tension between memory and forgetting.

This film does not follow your average route of exploring the lost moments of a filmmaker, instead it follows a path of celebrating memories of a beloved family member before they are lost. Fragile Memory is bathed in a tone of admiration, Igor Ivanko clearly shows his respect for his grandfather, and his achievements, and a desire to learn as much as he can while he has the chance. The style he chooses to explore these moments of the past is one that’s very natural and off the cuff, capturing candid moments. There’s a large mix of different shots, some more structured than others, to give a less intrusive feel, appearing as a kind observer.

It’s a joyous thing to see such fond memories captured on film, throwing back to a time which now looks like a completely different world. A heavy dose of nostalgia but at the same time it comes with a sincere sadness, for how it highlights his grandfather’s struggle with dementia. It’s a difficult thing to watch someone so clearly losing themselves and their capabilities, as well as seeing their partner beginning to grieve for the person that’s disappearing before their eyes. However, the film does not try to push or overly give focus to the subject, it takes a natural route to simply following the changes inLeonid as time goes on.

While he sadly can’t be the man he once was now in the grasp of dementia, you can still see flickers of the strong enthusiasm and dedication he had towards film. With the wealth of images and videos that Igor Ivanko recovers, it’s a lifetime of memories and constructs an impressive montage of his grandfather’s career and life. Watching Leonid and his wife go through these photos and footage is incredibly sweet, especially as it highlights their long and clearly devoted marriage.

Fragile Memory is a loving tribute, capturing a lifetime of memories before they are lost. It’s heart-breaking to watch Leonid’s struggle, as well as his wife suffering, but ultimately it holds out a hope in the great life that they spent together. Igor Ivanko’s style is casual and off the cuff, it has a kind quality to not intrude on his grandfather’s life and push him to answer questions, but to simply revel in the memories alongside him and learn as much as he can. It’s an intriguing window into the past, highlighting his grandfather’s love and commitment to film, which in turn inspired the filmmaker’s own.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of Sheffield DocFest 2022

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