Movie Review ‘The Memory Box’

By: 
John Thomas

A box is being delivered to the Montreal, Canada, home of Maia (Rim Turki) and her daughter Alex (Paloma Vauthier). Maia isn’t home so Maia’s mother, who is just visiting, answers the front door. Seeing the name of the sender on the box and from where it came, she tells the delivery man she won’t accept delivery.

Looking over her grandmother’s shoulder, Alex is intrigued by both the sender and return address – she signs for the box. Her grandmother reluctantly agrees only if they can sequester the box in the basement, so Maia won’t see it – at least until after the Christmas evening she’s planned.

Maia finally arrives home, and the three women sit around the decorated tree to celebrate the holiday. A loud crash disrupts their fun. The sound has come from the basement, so Maia goes to investigate. The mystery box has fallen over, scattering its contents all over the floor.

Maia is in shock – the contents are the record of her life during the civil war that ravaged Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. In the 80s, Maia’s best friend Lisa left Beirut, Maia promised to document for her the daily events with pictures and written notes.

Now the photos and notebooks describing these horrific events have returned. Maia scrambles to stuff these things into boxes and tuck them out of sight. Seeing her mother fast asleep later that evening, Alex creeps into the basement and begins examining the boxes that reveal her mother’s past life.

Many things she reads are accurate descriptions of what her mother had told her - others describe completely different versions. Alex grabs her mobile phone and begins photographing what she’s discovered to send to her best girlfriend. Both girls are excited, thrilled and later shocked.

Eventually, discovering Alex has been sorting through the contents of the box, Maia angrily confronts her. After the hostilities between the two ends, the women begin to review together the piles of information – even with smiles on their faces and the occasional laugh.

The memories are too gruesome for grandmother to participate with them. The latter had “readjusted” the cause of her husband’s death. To their community, he was a hero in defense of the traditional government, and she wanted his legacy to remain thus.

The memories become a bit scandalous when Maia describes the handsome young man frequently shown in the photos. Maia was forbidden to see “the love of her life” because of his rebellious leanings but that didn’t stop them from their many clandestine meetings. The positive reminders of her carefree past in Beirut finally overcome the negative ones.

Gazing out the windows of the taxi from the airport, Maia asks the driver to stop for a moment at a certain address. She wants to show Alex the neighborhood where Maia’s photos were taken and written about in her box of memories.

Directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Credits: Je Veux Voir, The Lebanese Rocket Society), “The Memory Box” runs 102 minutes and is a “should see” for a sensitively told story using inventive cinematography and convincing actors. Through creative design, the characters in the photos come to life.

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