Berlinale Review: “Memory Box,” Brilliant Story-Telling

(Berlin, Germany, 2021-02-28, film review by Cirina Catania, Sr. Editor, US Times.) If the film, “Memory Box,” is any indication of what is to become available for viewing during the 71st Berlin International Film Festival, it will be a banner year.

Unexpected, insightful, tough, triste, joyful and full of love, this film is a must-see.

Three generations of women finding a way through their relationships in “Memory Box”

In an age when negativity in the media reigns and many films are full of violence and despair, “Memory Box,” takes difficult subjects, difficult relationships, and brings them to life. leaving us hopeful. All will be well. Humans are not always loving, resilient, and powerful, but they have their moments.

A shipment arrives at single-mother Malia’s house in Montreal on Christmas Eve. It is large and heavy and her teen-age daughter, Alex, is excited for the moment when her mom will come home and open it. After all, it must contain something wonderful! But Grandmother doesn’t want Malia to see it and hides it away.

When she does discover the box, Malia becomes emotional and says she does not want to open it, refusing to discuss it further.

Unable to contain her curiosity, Alex sneaks behind closed doors and opens the box despite her mother’s demands. In it, she finds dozens of pictures, notebooks, souvenirs and keepsakes from her mother’s life as a teenager in the 80’s during the Lebanese Civil War.

Manal Issa in “Memory Box”

The box reveals a secret life that her mother had never shared with Alex. A time when friends were precious and young love was tragic and all encompassing.

Hassan Akil & Manal Issa starring in Memory Box as Alex & Maia

Acclaimed filmmakers, Joana Hadjithomas and Kahalil Joreige, have created a work of art that is contemporary, relevant, imaginative and historically relevant. It is unveils complex relationships and the destruction and rebirth that can emerge from humanity at war, not just politically, but culturally.

Memory Box directors, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige

According to Joana, the story is based loosely on her own life, but, she says, “We do not like boundaries or definitions. We aspire to a great level of freedom, the possibility to shift between making movies, documentaries, art videos, photographic installations, performances, sculptures… It all depends on the subject grabbing our attention, our inspiration, our research, and experimentation… With Memory Box, we aimed to transform our artistic and formal exploration into something cinematographic and accessible, something that an audience would truly enjoy. The film is full of artistic metaphors, whimsical moments and dark moments juxtaposed against the fabric of the time.”

About the visuals, Khalil says, “The film embodies freedom, but also a certain idea of craftsmanship.We didn’t want the esthetics to be akin to ‘special effects’. We like artistic, experimental, jack-of-all-trades approaches. And we wanted this visualexperimentation to open new, powerful emotional perspectives. Traditional film photography and contact prints fuel Alex’s imagination; they help her recreate and imagine in fanciful, inventive ways Lebanon, the 1980s, daily life in war times, or the passionate love story between Maia and Raja. We cut up pictures, burnt up photograms, worked on off-screen presences, which become a presence in the memory as in the sequence where Alex imagines a whole scene based on just one of the photos she has – itself only a fragment of a whole – and so the continuance of the décor becomes black because she no longer has a reference point. We actually created these black surroundings by lining and covering the street in which we were filming with black fabric.”

Kudos to the entire cast and crew.


Maia, Rim Turki

Maia in the eighties, Manal Issa

Alex, Paloma Vauthier

Teta, Clemence Sabbagh

Raija, Hassan Akil


Directors, Joana Hadjithomas & Kahlil Joreige

CoProducers, Haut et Court (France) – Carole Scotta & Barbara Letellier, About Productions (Lebanon) – George Schocair & Christian Eid, Micro_Scope (Canada) – Luc Dery, Kim Mc Craw & Jasmyrh Lemoine

Screenwriters, Gaelle Mace, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige

DP, Josee Deshaies

Editor, Tina Baz

Visual Effects, Laurent Brett

Music, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh with the participation of Charbel Haber

Sound, Guillaume Le Brax, Rana Eid & Olivier Goinard

Production Designer, Maiel El Khory, Mary Lynn Deachman & Franckie Diago

Costume Designer, Lara Mae Khamis

Casting, Sarah Teper, Abla Khoury, Brigette Viau & Isabelle Thez-Axelrad