I think I chose this screening for the same reasons that I chose Queen of Glory. That film was made by a Ghanian-American and Wild Indian was made by a Native American filmmaker. Both films are début features and there are some similarities in two relatively short features which perhaps struggle to make exactly the film they envisaged. Partly this may be because of budget restrictions, which inevitably mean a relatively short shoot (only 17 days for Wild Indian) and partly just that making your first feature is particularly difficult. But both films are blessed with strong central performances and they tell tales we haven’t seen before, at least in these distinctive cultural contexts.
Writer-director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr told us in the Q&A that his film had been seven years in the making and the narrative had slowly transformed over time. In the version he finally filmed, a prologue presents an Ojibwe man suffering from smallpox at some indeterminate point in history and moving westward. We then meet two characters who are high school students in the 1980s. The school appears to have a strong church connection. Whether all the students are from reservations isn’t clear. Makwa and Teddo are close friends. Makwa in particular has a difficult time at home. The two become involved in a violent incident and the narrative moves forward to 2019. A tall and lean man is practising his golf swing. It’s California and eventually we will realise that this is Makwa who has changed his name to Michael and has become successful in some form of profitable business. Meanwhile back in the Mid-West, Teddo is being released from prison. What happened back in 1988 will now come back to confront both men. I won’t spoil the narrative further, except to note that the film ends with a character on the beach in California, looking out to sea. It’s a scene familiar from many Hollywood narratives but not usually one with Native Americans as central characters. There is also an epilogue involving the man with smallpox discovering a dead man, another Native American.
The film has been promoted as a thriller and it does its job efficiently, helped by the terrific performances of the four actors who play the younger and older versions of Makwa (Phoenix Wilson and Michael Greyeyes) and Teddo (Julian Gopal and Chaske Spencer). The casting delivers an authenticity element in that Wilson and Lisa Cromarty (who plays Reddo’s sister) are Canadian actors from the family of First Nations, the Anishinaabe which includes the Ojibwe of Wisconsin, the director’s home band. Michael Greyeyes is a leading First Nations actor from the Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. He also appears in Jimmy P. (US-France 2013). That film too, though set in the US, cast Canadian First Nations actors in several roles. Indigenous North Americans are not bound by colonial borders but the US and Canada have different policies towards indigenous cultures. Does this affect the development of actors? The production finally shot the reservation scenes in Oklahoma which provided support. Director Mitchell Corbine suggests that the look of the Oklahoma locations has some resemblance to Wisconsin. I understand that there are also Anishinaabe in Oklahoma. Chaske Spencer is also seen as a Native American actor, born in Oklahoma. I’m not sure about Julian Gopal.
The prologue introduces the idea of the fate of indigenous peoples during the colonisation of North America. The ‘choice’ has always been to remain within the family and the band or to assimilate with the white majority. Of course, it was not usually a choice at all. Assimilation was forced on many as the recent outrage at the history of the Canadian residential school deaths attests. In Wild Indian, however, the two central characters take different steps following the events at school in the 1980s. We do learn something about what happened to Teddo but frustratingly not how Makwa became Michael. The repeated narrative is about the difficulty of surviving life on the reservation versus the material wealth offered by assimilation. Mitchell Corbine explores this narrative dichotomy with just two scenes that present white authority figures passing judgement. One is the priest lecturing the high school students about Cain and Abel and the other shows the local DA being dismissive about the re-opening of the investigation of the original violent incident involving Makwa and Teddo. Several of the reviewers who generally praise the film want to know much more about the two central characters. I can understand this but I think I like the more oblique take on the characters’ life choices. The film works as a crime thriller but there is enough to challenge us to think about the politics.
I’ve listed the film has having French involvement and this comes from the participation of the French company Logical Pictures Group which operates from Paris and Los Angeles. The group’s website covers its associates and on one of them, Loveboat, there is a profile of Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr and a chance to watch his two earlier short films, Shinaab (2017) and Shinaab Part 2 (2019) which explore the ‘two paths’ concept at the centre of the struggle for identity for a young Anishinaabe man. The director was selected by Variety as one of its 10 Directors to watch for 2021. There is certainly enough in the two shorts and Wild Indian to make me look out for his future projects.
Wild Indian has been listed as an acquisition by Vertigo Releasing for the UK, so look out for it in cinemas or on download in the coming months. I’ve not included a trailer here as all the available ones give away too much of the plot.
This début feature was shown in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes this year. But then the writer-director has the distinction of being the son of Jafar Panahi. In the film’s online introduction, Panah Panahi explained that he has always liked to start watching films ‘from zero’ and that he didn’t want his audience to read about or be told about his film before they watched it. I’d better be careful and not say too much.
As the title implies this is a form of road movie. For an ancient viewer like me it has been very difficult to think of the title without adding ‘Jack’ – ‘Hit the Road Jack’ by Ray Charles (1961) was a classic song of my youth. Of course, road movies often have music on car radios or players and this film continues the tradition. The Iranian pop songs of the 1970s are enjoyable and especially in the way they are used here. We meet four people who are probably related but we don’t get their names. There is an older couple, a younger man as the driver and a small boy, a real bundle of energy. There is also a dog, possibly sick or injured. Why are they together on this journey? Where are they going and why? We will find out over the course of the film, though we won’t ever know everything. You will however, have a wonderful time and will be glad you saw the film. I can’t guarantee that of course but all the reactions I’ve seen have been good.
If you saw the film 3 Faces (Iran 2018), made by Jafar Panahi, it could give you some idea about what you might see in Hit the Road. This new film is not a copy or a sequel, but the region where it was shot looks familiar. It might be in the mountains of Northern Iran from where the Panahi family originate. 3 Faces was edited by Panah Panahi and it was photographed by Amin Jafari. Panah Panahi asked him to shoot Hit the Road and in the Q&A said that they worked well together with the cinematographer providing advice about working with actors. Panah Panahi had previously made his own music video productions but did not have the experience of working with successful actors such as Pantea Panahiha as the woman and Hassan Majouni as her partner. The director revealed that he eventually realised that they each approached their roles very differently and that it was best to allow this to happen rather than attempt to impose his own ideas. The young boy and the young man are played by actors who I don’t think have had previous experience so would have to have been directed differently. But however he did it Panahi found the right method.
What I’ve described sounds like a familiar realist/neo-realist road movie enhanced by the treatment of landscape. Panahi told us that he and Jafari decided to stick with ‘normal’ lenses (i.e. 35-50mm) and to avoid any spatial distortion. This is another familiar aspect of a neo-realist approach, especially with the use of long shots – ‘figures in a landscape’- see the trailer below. Panahi does however offer us a very beautiful and moving fantasy sequence towards the end of the film which is all the more affecting because of the contrast with what we have seen previously.
Hit the Road has been acquired for UK and Ireland distribution by Picturehouse so it will come to UK cinemas. I note that it is also screening in the Leeds International Film Festival in November. Try and see it if it comes to a cinema near you. It will look very good on a big screen.
Here’s a very good trailer that shows you the four characters and gives glimpses of the use of landscapes, but doesn’t give away anything concrete about the narrative as such.
For the last few years I’ve managed to find a Bangladeshi film in at least one festival each year. They have all been worth watching for different reasons. Rehana continues the run in this year of the 50th anniversary of the country’s foundation. It has also become the first Bangladeshi film in competition at Cannes this year. How can I categorise it? It feels a little like a hybrid, a social realist/art film. It has a sensibility that melds a Ken Loach/Dardennes Brothers melodrama with an independent Iranian film investigating the struggles of an intelligent woman trapped in an institutional framework which seeks to control her agency. But isn’t a film which sets out to present a clear political message. Indeed its narrative resolution is at the same time conclusive about its central character and open-ended about what will happen next. It’s a hard watch but rewarding and confirms its writer-director Abdullah Mohammad Saad as a talent to watch out for at international festivals, confirming the promise of his first film, Live From Dhaka (Bangladesh 2016).
The film’s original title is ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’, the central character of the narrative. She is a young widow with a daughter in the first grade of school and with her parents and younger unemployed brother to support. She has worked hard to achieve the position of Assistant Professor at a private Medical Teaching College, but the complex plotting of the narrative suggests that she faces a network of institutional issues affecting each part of her life. We first meet her dealing with her daughter Emu who has joined her at work. Usually the child will be taken to school and collected by her grandmother or by her uncle Roni. With Emu sorted, Rehana has to invigilate an exam. She discovers what she believes is a student cheating and expels her from the exam. The young woman, Mimi, is supported by her friend Annie and Rehana’s decision will have consequences. At this point it isn’t obvious that two different narrative strands – Emu’s schooling and the fate of Mimi and Annie will be related, but both will become major issues for Rehana. I don’t want to spoil the narrative so I’ll focus on Rehana and the institutions.
Bangladesh is a country that has experienced female leaders (the current PM is Sheikh Hasina preceded by Khaleda Zia and both women have had long political careers) and women have been able to progress in the professions, yet the society is still patriarchal (like most societies). Rehana is determined to ‘do things properly’ both in terms of her family responsibilities and her work. Emu is an intelligent and lively child who should be the kind of student every teacher dreams of. But we never see her at school, we only know that the school thinks Rehana, the working mother, is neglecting her daughter. In her college, Rehana wants to support the female students but also to observe correct procedures. She will find herself embroiled in a case of alleged sexual harassment involving Annie and Mimi and her own line manager Dr. Arefin, who is also the student liaison officer. The principal of the college is also a woman whose support is important to Rehana but, as she points out, she has to answer to a board and the college’s reputation is perhaps the board’s primary concern.
Director Saad and his cinematographer Tuhin Tamijul present this drama using a hand-held camera for ‘Scope compositions with what appears to be a blue filter throughout the film. The whole narrative plays out in the college building, a location which to me sometimes seemed more like an airport building than a college, with large windows and corridors but no sense of what kind of world lies outside. I don’t remember any music score and though there is significant action/interaction between characters, there is also a very measured sense of pacing. Some characters, especially Rehana, sometimes pause, either thinking about what to say or do or simply stunned into silence by the difficulties of the situation. Overall, the tone of the film’s presentation is ‘austere’. Why then is it so engrossing (but also so uncomfortable)? Much depends on the terrific central performance by Azmeri Haque Badhon. She was present for the online Q&A hosted by Kalpana Nair. She is, I think, an actor in commercial Bangladeshi cinema and TV and she told us that she had never played this kind of role before. The shooting took place over 18 months and she prepared carefully, taking time to change her hair, make-up and nails to lose the glamour as Rehana wears a headscarf and demure dress throughout – in contrast to other staff and students. Annie’s yellow sweater is one of the only splashes of colour in the film. Often the camera presents an angled view of Rehana in profile or frames her in doorways, through gaps, almost as if she has difficulty controlling the space. Badhon’s remarks indicate that the idea of an independent cinema in Bangladesh is still to be established. She said she was keen to take the role because Bangladeshi films don’t place women at the centre of the narrative. I remembered a previous LFF film, Made in Bangladesh (2019), a rousing film about the struggles of female workers to unionise in sweatshops. But then I realised that was a film made by a woman trained in North America and with a history of challenging films back in Bangladesh.
Rehana too has ‘outside support’. Abdullah Mohammad Saad found success with his first film at the Singapore International Film Festival and that perhaps explains why it has a Singapore producer in Jeremy Chua (who was also part of the Q&A). The other producing partner/funder is the Doha Film Institute. Doha funding has helped many Arab cinema projects and I’m guessing this has extended to Bangladesh. These kinds of funding and partnership arrangements are very useful in helping independent films to find outlets in international festivals. It looks like this film has a US release and I hope it becomes available in other territories. I hesitate to say that i ‘enjoyed’ the film – part of it I watched almost between my fingers as I was frightened about what would happen next. Poor Rehana is always up against it. Most of the time I applaud her stubbornness in the face of collusion and corruption, but I would have to admit that sometimes she could just cut people a little slack. She’s right about challenging possible sexual assault but not necessarily in the way she does it and to a certain extent she should perhaps put her daughter’s future first (because nobody else will). This is an important film so please be prepared to grit your teeth and watch it.
This is the highest profile film in my selection, winner of the Silver Bear at Berlin this year. I chose it partly because Nick Lacey had written about Happy Hour (2015) on this blog, the five hours plus earlier film by Hamaguchi Ryûsuke. I didn’t think I’d make it through the five hours but at only two this more recent film looked doable. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is an odd title that conjures up for me a different kind of film than that offered here. The original Japanese title is ‘Coincidence and Imagination’ which is a little more helpful. It’s a compendium or anthology film comprising three separate episodes each written and directed by Hamaguchi. The characters and settings are different in each short film. In each case the narrative is built around strained meetings and conversations, behind which are other relevant relationships.
Episode 1 ‘Magic (or Something Less Assuring)’ deals with two twenty-something female friends. The coincidence in this case turns out to be that Tsugumi meets a man and they appear to fall for each other almost immediately (thus the ‘magic’). But as Meiko listens to her friend’s story she realises that this is Kazua who was once her boyfriend. What will she do? Will she tell Tsugumi and if so, how? Is she jealous? Does she still love Kazua? Episode 2 ‘Door Wide Open’ is rather different. Nao, a mature university student who is married with a small child takes another, younger, student as her lover. They have both taken a French course with Professor Segawaya who always keeps his office door ‘wide open’, mindful of harassment charges. The young man has been held back in class by the Professor and seeks revenge. When the Professor wins a prestigious prize for his novel, the young man dreams up an entrapment plan which he forces his partner to carry out. But what can she do when the door is always wide open and any passing student or staff could look in?
Episode 3 ‘Once Again’ involves only two characters, but there are other missing characters who are important to the narrative. Natsuko returns to her home city of Sendai to attend a high school reunion of the class of 1998. She hasn’t been back for twenty years since she started work in Tokyo and she discovers that she doesn’t know anybody, until a woman does recognise her but Natsuko can’t remember her name. Next day on her way to the station she sees another woman on the escalator. Is this her old lover? After an entertaining chase around the escalator the two women manage to find each other. But will this ‘reunion’ work out? They go to the woman’s house to make tea. This last episode has a ‘speculative fiction’ aspect to it in that the world has experienced a computer virus which has caused personal files on computers to be dispatched to contacts, sharing secrets and causing disruption. Hamaguchi made this episode after COVID struck and this idea was his response.
There are several notable aspects of each of these encounters. Most of the ‘action’ is simply a conversation between two people and in one case the two characters are framed in a continuous two-shot for what seems like several minutes with sustained dialogue. To do this, the actors must be very well prepared and at ease with shooting. Hamaguchi discussed acting in his online Introduction and in the Q&A. He stresses that his main motivation was working with his actors and he outlined his methods. What was most interesting for me was his revelation that it was his prior production experience on documentaries that enabled him to understand the issue of anxiety on a shoot, both for himself and the actors or the subjects of the narrative. He works with all the actors together on their lines, repeating them so many times that they internalise the words and relax.
As to the three scenarios, he argues that he thought about seemingly impossible set-ups and how the characters might react to the events in realistic ways. Of the three episodes I found the second most gripping because it generated an erotic tension and the third the most interesting in the way the script developed what seemed a not unusual occurrence when two people meet and they are not sure whether they know each other or who the other person is. What happens is very interesting. The first episode was in some ways the most conventional scenario, but even so did hold my attention because of the quality of the performances.
What surprised me about this film was that I assumed it would feel slow with long conversations but I was very surprised to discover just how quickly the time had flown by because I was so engrossed. Hamaguchi’s work has been compared by international critics to several other directors but mostly I think to Eric Rohmer. He himself mentions the French New Wave plus John Cassavetes and his film Husbands (US 1970) as a major influence. These comparisons represent high praise but the startling thing is that Hamaguchi completed a second film in 2021 and it is also in the LFF programme. Ride My Car (2021), adapted from a Murakami short story is the Japanese Oscar entry for 2022 (and it won the Cannes screenplay this year). It must be very good. One of our regular correspondents, John, has seen it, however, and stated that for him it dragged a little during its three hour running time. I’ll be interested to see it after watching Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. It does seem that with these two films, Hamaguchi is being accepted as the latest international auteur to emerge from Japan.
The technical credits of Wheel of Fortune are all strong but I’d like to pick out the cinematography of Iioka Yukiko which is a crucial element in the success of the acting. I thought the ‘light classical’ piano soundtrack was effective but it doesn’t appear to be credited. [A friend told me later it was Schumann’s ‘Scenes from Childhood’.] I don’t want to pick out any of the actors, all of them were very good for me, though studying performances and following subtitles does mean missing some facial expressions and gestures as the BFI host of the screening Hyun Jin Cho suggested. I realise that I haven’t emphasised that in both Happy Hour and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Hamaguchi has presented female-led stories about women’s desire, but without any sense that this is unusual. This shouldn’t need to be said but still seems necessary. I enjoyed this film very much, especially the opportunity to explore these scenarios.
Modern Films have acquired this film for UK and Ireland distribution. I recommend seeing it and discussing the scenarios. Would you act differently in the same situation as these characters?
This shortish first feature (78 mins) is fronted by an outstanding performance by its writer-director-star Nana Mensah. An experienced actor with credits on several TV series and some Independent Cinema titles, Mensah had not intended to direct or to star in the film she was writing. But circumstances eventually pushed her into the other roles and as she said in the included online Q&A, it was good that she wrote the script first not thinking she would play the central character. That way she didn’t cut herself any slack or attempt to avoid certain potential scenarios. The outline narrative of the film is relatively simple and, at least on a structural level, familiar as a universal experience. But because of its specific cultural focus it is also distinctive in its narrative events and settings.
After a credit sequence featuring a montage of Ghanaian textile designs, drumming and dancing, we first meet Sarah in her office at Columbia University. She’s a science grad research student with some supervision duties. She’s hoping her boyfriend, who has been appointed to a more senior post in Ohio, will leave his wife and she can share a house with him. She seems sure this will happen. The ‘inciting incident’ when it arrives almost overwhelms Sarah. Her mother dies suddenly and Sarah is faced with a series of responsibilities, the weight of which severely throws her off-balance. First she learns that she has inherited her mother’s house and her Christian bookshop in the Bronx. Second she must organise not one but two large-scale celebrations, one a ‘white person-style funeral’, but the other a traditional Ghanaian funeral with expectations of attendance by many in the ‘Little Ghana’ community in the Bronx. Third, her estranged father arrives from Accra with expectations of a family reunion. No wonder she has little time to check in with the boyfriend, who I think is probably already mistrusted by many in the audience – he can’t even pronounce ‘Accra’ correctly.
One question for me was trying to work out what kind of a film this was. It has been widely promoted as a comedy and I was relieved that the BFI host of the introduction and Q&A, Grace Barber-Plentie, asked Nana Mensah directly about finding the right tone. Mensah was willing to describe her film as a comedy and said that the mixing of grief and comedy was something that did happen in her culture. It strikes me that the same is true in most cultures. It is often said that weddings and funerals have much the same capacity for comedy and drama in my Northern English culture and I suspect it is the same in most others.
From my perspective the narrative suggests a form of realist family melodrama with comic elements. The real story is about Sarah’s struggle to understand what she might be losing if she sells the house and the bookshop and follows her boyfriend to Ohio. This includes questions about the value she places on family ties and friendships within her community. It’s also a question about what a ‘hyphenate’ identity means in the US today. In other words, it’s a diaspora narrative. As I watched the film I realised that I probably know more about Francophone West African cultures both in Africa and in France than the Anglophone West African cultures in the UK and US. This is because of the way film and TV have developed in West Africa in the post-colonial period. I’m aware of a triangular relationship between Nigeria and Ghana with the UK and US, but I don’t have much access to the films and TV produced even though Nollywood and Ghallywood are prolific producers. The films are hard to see in the UK outside specific cities with a Nigerian or Ghanaian community. Nana Mensah’s film feels more like an American Independent film, but there are elements of Ghanaian Cinema as well, I think. She uses archive footage at various points to offer a sense of traditional ceremonies and life on the streets of Accra. One of the key cultural ‘threads’ in the narrative focuses on food. Early in the film Sarah eats pizza and snacks. For the funeral parties she makes, or buys in, Ghanaian food. The prospect of going to the meat market in the Bronx is also intercut with footage of street abattoirs in Ghana, and buying meat (i.e. ‘real meat’) is something she can barely stomach. By the end of the film, however, she is making rice and meat stew for her father.
I enjoyed the film but I agree with at least one other reviewer who recognises that it is almost as if the production ran out of money (and time) since some narrative threads are left in the air and others are quickly resolved. Nana Mensah discussed her positive experience with Kickstarter in the Q&A, but also stressed the work needed to deal with the funding. I don’t know if the production was affected by COVID. This is still an impressive début picture. I enjoyed the ‘Scope photography by Cybel Martin and the editing by Cooper Troxell. I also enjoyed the music in the film, especially the song over the closing credits. I should also mention the actor Meeko who plays the important role of the Christian bookshop manager. The ‘King of Glory’ shop is a ‘real’ location, owned by one of Mensah’s relatives. Anya Migdal was one of the producers of the film and she also plays the the first generation Russian-American next door neighbour in the Bronx who remembers Sarah from the local high school. This was also a promising narrative strand, but like the bookshop perhaps not fully realised.
Queen of Glory won a prize at its home festival Tribeca and it was well-received by Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ghanaian-American reviewer. I’m sure it would find a UK audience if some form of release is possible. Here’s a festival trailer.
It was a nice surprise to discover that my first online film in this year’s LFF was introduced by Sarah Perks my erstwhile teaching partner from Cornerhouse/HOME in Manchester. Sarah moved into artist’s film a few years ago and is now a Professor at Teesside University. She clearly knows the couple who made Memory Box, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige who are artists as well as filmmakers. I think I’ve only seen Je veux voir (I Want to See, Lebanon 2008) of their previous films. It starred Catherine Deneuve as herself, a celebrity seeing the damage from the 2006 war in Lebanon. There is an immediate link between that film and Memory Box.
It’s Christmas in Montreal and teenager Alex (she might be 18?) is making stuffed vine leaves with her grandmother Téta. Her mother Maia is not home yet. A box like a tea chest is delivered by the postie and at first Téta says they won’t accept it even though it is addressed to Maia, but Alex insists that they do want it. When Maia gets home she is shocked and forbids Alex to look at the box’s contents. But Alex is desperate to know more about her mother and circumstances make it easy to discover a treasure trove of notebooks, photographs and cassette tapes. Through Alex we will get to discover the young Maia between the ages of 13 and 18 back in Beirut. Alex has never been told the story and she becomes engrossed. What happened during the Civil War in Lebanon and why won’t her mother talk about it? To find out we must pursue flashbacks to teenage Maia in Beirut played with great vitality by Manal Issa. As well as offering us a youth picture narrative set against the bombing and general disruption of Beirut, this is also the opportunity for the filmmakers to explore a whole range of techniques in presenting what are now ‘memories’.
The notebooks and photos are inspired by the archives of the filmmakers themselves, Joana as the writer and Khalil as the photographer, when they were similarly young people in Beirut in the 1980s. There is also a third writer, Gaëlle Macé. Joana and Khalil didn’t want to make a film about their own memories as such and they felt “freer with more distance” by focusing on the ideas rather than their own histories. But on the other hand, using their own archives keeps them attached to the ‘feel’ of the 1980s. This is a complex set of relationships with the past. They cast the actors for the flashbacks and then found ways to animate photographs and to ‘distress’ film/video footage and add explosions etc. so that we experience how Alex sees her mother in Beirut. All this is accompanied by an enjoyable 1980s soundtrack. Dancing to Blondie is a standout. Is there romance for young Maia? What do you think? Beirut was a war zone and there is tragedy as well as joy and hope, but eventually Maia and her mother had to leave, first for France and then to Canada. A key term in this presentation of Beirut and this particular Christian family in the city is ‘texture’ and ideas about mediation. How different are the visual and aural images Alex encounters from the actual experiences of Maia? Memories are produced in different ways and then worked on over time, remembered and re-worked, stories are told and re-told – or in this case, deliberately not told.
I don’t want to spoil the narrative pleasures of the film but I’m not giving too much away to reveal that the three women, representing three generations, do return to contemporary Beirut, a city that has been almost completely reconstructed after the wars that finally ended in 2006 – though the massive explosion in 2020 has since caused more devastation. The film was virtually complete in 2019 before worked stopped on it during lockdown. Joana spoke in the Q+A about the idea of ‘rupture’ in the emotional attachment of characters to Beirut’s people and its history and she emphasised the importance of the ‘re-construction’ of the city and of the history? The film is also about the ‘transmission’ of the personal history of the family.
This is a fascinating family drama about three central female characters played by Rim Turki as the older Maia, Clémence Sabbagh as Téta and Paloma Vauthier as Alex. I thought all the performances were very strong. The only oddity is the absence of of Alex’s father, who is mentioned as having amicably parted from Maia. But since he would have been either French or French-Canadian with no background in Beirut, this is understandable.
I’m not sure if it matters if an audience isn’t that familiar with the long war in 1980s Lebanon which had many levels and involved not only a civil war between different Christian and Muslim factions, but also the actions of the Syrian and Israeli armed forces and the presence of large numbers of Palestinian refugees. The focus is on the family story and I was reminded of a film like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (France-US 2007) in which another teenager attempts to balance family, education and discover boys in the midst of a war and a local society with different codes of morality and behaviour. Maia has left Beirut and her family story to make a new life in Montreal and this, in different ways, might make a link to Stories We Tell (Canada 2012), the hybrid documentary by Sarah Polley. Studying these three films together would be an interesting project.
It appears that Memory Box has been acquired by Modern Films for distribution in the UK and Ireland. I enjoyed the film immensely and I think it is very successful in what it sets out to do. In fact, I could write a great deal more on the film but I’ve got to press on, the next festival film is coming up! Do try to see Memory Box in a cinema if it comes to your area. The film should look very good with Josée Deshaies’ cinematography presented in ‘Scope on a big screen. I feel it is bound to get you thinking about families and memories. Memory Box is in Arabic and French with English subtitles. Here is a clip from the film showing Alex listening to a cassette and looking at photos of Maia in Beirut. You can also see some of the animation.