Found Moments of Found Memories

27 Nov

By Charlotte Martinez

Until recently, I’ve experienced movies from the perspective of a storyteller, an audience member with humane rather than critical opinions. I have, unfortunately, run out of unique ways to describe humanity in archetypical stories, and when I criticize I contradict myself with the argument, “but it’s all interpretive.” From being both in front and behind the scenes of film, I have discovered the following: formulas in story are wonderfully easy to spot, so there is no secret in selling a movie. Formulas feed good feelings, like treats given to dogs on long walks. I challenge the filmmaker to present the same formula in a new way. Good luck.

I give props to the foreign film Found Memories for doing just that.

Using bare minimum plot, the film conveys a lament story of villagers living almost out of time in the Brazilian boonies. Director Julia Murat shoots the interaction of few characters with little dialogue in the fragile houses and vignette vegetation of their small community. Using long and silent shots, themes of culture clashes and generation gaps creep from the frame’s well-lit shadows.

Nostalgic is a sensible adjective for Found Memories, but it’s a sensible adjective for a lot of movies. How do I reveal unique traits of Found Memories without mentioning formula? I can’t. The movie is a success because it has a theme, a character flaw, a redemption…a formula. However, now that I have lost my movie-watching innocence and worked behind the scenes, I can also say I thought the movie was refreshingly slow; slow in a pay-attention-you-formula-follower sort of way.

The character Madalena is an elderly villager who bakes bread, attends church and is afraid to die. She lives alone and interacts mostly with Antonio, a friend who sells food to the dozen elderly inhabitants of Jobtuomba, their village. Madalena’s life consists of writing letters to her deceased husband and eating meals with the villagers after church. These moments are sympathy-getters and they work! I was sad for Madalena. Why? Because her existence in this small village was meaningful and she was granted a beautiful end when a young photographer, Rita, replaces her as the bread maker. It’s the perfect bookend for a theme of young replacing the old.

The long stationary shots make the movie as a whole very different than most movies today. The camera is immobile in front of a candle while Madalena kneads her dough, or in front of the cemetery where she arranges her flowers. If you can survive the first couple of minutes of that, then your critical eye will be intrigued. The use of little dialogue and gorgeous views, such as the crumbling houses and Brazilian mountain ranges, give those long shots a reminiscent tone and the location a sedate identity. When the young Rita first appears, for example, the conversation between her and Madalena begins with silent acknowledgement.

“I’m looking for a place to stay,” Rita says, standing on Madalena’s threshold.

Madalena stares with droopy eyes and her bread basket in one arm.

“It will only be for a couple of days,” Rita says.

Madalena looks Rita up and down.

Rita is wearing a zip-up sweater, bellbottoms, and a backpack. Her brown hair is short and smooth.

Next scene, Madalena is opening the windows for Rita and showing her where her room will be. No extra words necessary.

The multiple shots of the unused train tracks running through the village is cinematic symbolism in action. Repeated imagery is an audience pleaser; as a rule of thumb, the more they see it the smarter they feel. In the beginning of the film, Madelena walks the tracks every morning to drop off her bread. Intuitively, we can say that the tracks represent the path of the hero, the major changes that either bring the character back to where she started or toward her ultimate goal. When Rita, the young photographer, comes to stay with her, both women walk through the tracks together. Now the tracks are a metaphor. Rita learns how to make bread so she can replace Madelena and take the morning walk through the train tracks by herself, sort of like a mother goose directing her offspring South for the winter. Repetition is a formula must, and though the tracks appear many times, every time is a new experience and this is done by simply keeping the characters and tracks in the frame as they walk. Go figure.

And of course every film needs its trademark scene, a revelation of the character and a theme for the audience to take home. The scene came unexpectedly, in one of Murat’s beautifully silent moments when you think the characters won’t say anything. Madalena and Antonio are seated in front of their crumbling wall drinking their coffee and Madalena reveals to Antonio that she has accepted her future passing, but is still afraid to die.

“Then don’t die,” Antonio says.

“Why don’t you die?” Madalena asks.

“I’m not unhappy enough.”

Simple dialogue in a movie with very little conversation, but these words makes more of an impact than any 300-hundred page screenplay.

It may be that Found Memories will come and go without a second thought from the movie watcher, but as a filmmaker, I can say that its long beautiful shots, simple story and unique characters took a step in the right direction. For once I can say that I applauded the formula.