Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Rim Turki, Manal Issa, Paloma Vauthier, Clémence Sabbagh, Nisrine Abi Samra, Joe Kodeih, Hassan Akil, Halim Abiad and Michelle Bado
The lives of three women are connected by a box that resurfaces containing notebooks, photographs and audiotapes.
Maia, a single mother, lives in Montreal with her teenage daughter, Alex. On Christmas Eve, they receive an unexpected delivery: notebooks, tapes, and photos Maia sent to her best friend from 1980’s Beirut. Maia refuses to open the box or confront its memories, but Alex secretly begins diving into it. Between fantasy and reality, Alex enters the world of her mother’s tumultuous, passionate adolescence during the Lebanese civil war, unlocking mysteries of a hidden past.
Memory Box is a drama written by Gaëlle Macé, Joana Hadjithomas, and Khalil Joreige, with the latter two also directing. Set in the snowy season of Montreal, we see how Alex feels isolated from her friends, communicating with them via social media in the films opening scene, being disillusioned with how boring things are at home as well as not being out socialising during the Christmas break. One day, a mysterious package arrives from an old friend of her mother’s named Liza Haber. While Alex is intrigued about the arrival of the box, particularly as it contains contents and items related to her mother’s past, Maia is more hesitant in looking to revisit the past, especially having grown-up in the war-torn Beirut during the 1980’s.
Memory Box has an interesting concept in a daughter looking to have an insight into her mother’s childhood. Was she rebellious? Was she as stubborn then as she is now? Or was she exactly the same as me? While Alex learns that the person’s name on the box, Liza, was a childhood friend of her mother’s that left Beirut and moved to France, she begins to do what any teenager would do, and search for her online, and later, against her mother’s wishes, begin to sneak a peek into the box to go through photographs, notebooks, and audio tapes that her mother made, and begins to picture a representation of her mother which the audience sees as she reads and listens to the material provided. The way these scenes of a young Maia and her circle of friends, aka ‘the famous five’, are played out is visually appealing in how it is edited by Tina Baz, and some of the cinematography is really well done. There’s one sequence that stood out for me, which is when the younger Maia is with her boyfriend Raja, riding on a bike through the streets of Beirut at night and you can see explosions going off in the distance in the background, and that was quite the visual.
While it initially starts with Alex being perplexed by the younger version of her mother, even at one point showing one of her friends a photograph of her mother smoking (which is something that Alex does, taking pictures of some of her mother’s pictures) saying, “she said she never smoked…I know nothing about her”, as Alex goes further into the notebook we start to learn of the troubles that began to root deep into not just the city of Beirut but how it effected her family is when the drama starts to get heavy but delicately handed, and how the information that Alex has taken on doesn’t really match up with Maia’s reality, which is well handled in the films final act and is very effective in hitting you right in the gut. Paloma Vauthier gives a very good, authentic performance as the daughter Alex that is revisiting memories of her mother, and considering it’s her acting debut, she certainly has a bright future ahead. Rim Turki also gives a good performance as the adult Maia, with Manal Issa also doing well with what she has as the younger Maia (particularly as it’s mostly from Alex’s perspective), and Clémence Sabbagh is also good as Tete, Maia’s mother and Alex’s grandmother.
Memory Box is a pleasant drama on a daughter trying to learn about her mother’s past growing up in a war-torn city with some unearthed truths that pack an emotional punch. Well directed, edited and filled with good performances across the board.