At a first glance, one might criticize Lucia Murat’s film for wishing to say too much in only 100 minutes. Because Memories They Told Me (A Memoria que me Contam) speaks with equal passion about revolution, terrorism, sexual choices, friendship, stability, illusions, etc. And, first and foremost, it speaks about the irreversible passing of time and, as Paolo (Franco Nero) puts it, it makes us feel guilty for living for too long, for surviving.
The craftsmanship of the Brazilian director is evident in how she goes thoroughly into all these themes, combining them, superimposing them, seamlessly overlapping them, the same way as life itself. Life, with its fragile border between illusion and lies, between forced rejection and wishful abandonment, between the necessary violence of the revolution and the destructive violence of wanton terrorism.
Usually, women’s cinema is self-referential. And Lucia Murat’s cinema is no exception. A member of the Brazilian leftist “guerilla” during the military dictatorship (1968-1979), she was arrested and tortured in prison. Memories They Told Me focuses on Irene (played by Irene Ravache, who’s almost the director’s lookalike), a former revolutionary turned filmmaker. She’s just broken up with Ana (Simone Spoladore), who has always been an excessive person: she continued with the revolution after its end, she had not one husband but five and not one cancer but two. And now she is dying. All her friends and former comrades are around her like a big family. For them, she is like a flame, “our eternal rebel, the one who kept us together, the one we needed”. The young generation also is trying to understand her and, at the same time, to carry out their own quiet revolution, named homosexuality or modern art.
As far as Irene is concerned, Ana is always present, but not as an old, dying woman, but as the other’s lasting memory of her: young, beautiful, calm, mysterious, resolute, loving, and especially devoted to the cause. And that’s the only Ana we see in the film. The dying woman remains off screen, in the hospital. The young Ana walks through the film as a spirit in the room.
These two characters — Irene and Ana — allow Murat to make the portrait of a generation of intellectuals marked by passed ideals and present disappointments. The portrait is inspired by the real-life partisan Vera Silvia Magalhaes, who, in 1969, took part in the kidnapping of the American ambassador and became a mythical figure for the Brazilian leftists. Murat has explained in an interview: “This film wants to talk about a history that is still being created: a history of utopia facing the power, facing the fragilities, doubts and intimate wounds of those whose children still consider them ‘heroes’… The first time I thought about making this film was 20 years ago. But other projects were overlapping. It was only when Vera died that the pain made me go back to the project and start to write. And when I was making the film I remembered a poem by Fernando Pessoa: ‘Myth is the nothing that is everything / The same sun that opens the skies / Is a myth, brilliant and mute / The dead body of God / Living and nude.'”
Lucia and Vera, as well as their cinematic counterparts, Irene and Ana, are the representatives of a dying world kept alive solely by the survivors’ memories. Some make these memories look prettier than they are (like Ana’s forever-young character). Others sorrowfully remember the past, fully aware of its utopian dimension and its irreversibility (Paolo); and others forget all about it, focusing on their new existential choices (the former revolutionary-turned-government minister). The only thing that is real, perpetual, and that will hold all of them together, even when they will all be dead (smiling, Ana witnesses her own funeral, surrounded by her mourning friends, who fully acknowledge her presence), is friendship.
In all, Memories They Told Me is a touching story told by one of the most powerful contemporary women filmmakers.
Edited by Gerald Peary
© FIPRESCI 2013