Review: Memory House
- João Paulo Miranda Maria’s first full-length film melds past and present, realism and fantasy, to offer a mesmerising symbolic and political immersion into the Brazilian collective subconscious
At a cattle auction in the State of Goiás, microphone in hand, the speaker sings the praises of spectacular bull Jatoba’s "impeccable racial profile", “highly productive biotype" and specific "genetic make-up" (inherited from his parents Credit and Traveler), an animal eventually sold for 16,000 euros. It’s within the depths of Brazil’s distinctly separate economic (and racial) two-tier system, and two overlapping psychic worlds that João Paulo Miranda Maria unfurls his ambitious and bizarre film Memory House [+see also:
film profile], a first feature-length title which was awarded the Cannes Film Festival’s Official Selection label, which went on to grace the Discovery section of the Toronto Film Festival and which has now been screened in the New Directors competition of the 68th San Sebastián Film Festival.
Originally from the North-East, Cristovam (Antonio Pitanga) has been an employee of the dairy company Kainz for over 20 years ("we came from Europe to bring innovation, to bring a new perspective to this new country"), a firm which has relocated to the South and which supports the separatist movement ("we can no longer continue to be the region which pays the most tax and which receives the least in return… taking orders from the lazy folk of the North … This referendum is our shield against the under-development of the rest of Brazil"). At his own very humble level, living alone with his dog in the middle of the countryside away from the village, Cristovam suffers in silence, sucking up the sacrifices required for financial survival. But a breath of fresh air subtly penetrates his shell and propels him between two worlds, into a phantasmagorical zone where wild animals take shape, where objects and ancient spirits take a hold of his soul and where spears must fight against guns…
Hallucinatory visions, changes in perspective, the growling of wildcats, a Halloween mask and a real-life corpse: from an abandoned house, João Paulo Miranda Maria (who also wrote the script) brings various dimensions into collision and flings opens a window to the ancestral spirits of his homeland, allowing them to enter into the present. Jaguars, bulls with eyes ablaze, misty forests… An entire parallel universe rushes forwards, invading the microcosm of the factory, of the local bar, of violent kids, of the pervading racism and social destitution… It’s a hymn, of sorts, and a call for the Brazilian people to return to their roots, to the purifying, sacrificial, occult rituals of candomblé, which the filmmaker tangles together with a highly developed sense of the bizarre, successfully maintaining high levels of curiosity while also leaving the viewer multiple keys to interpret the film. This, in addition to the crystal-clear message: "it is time… he has prayed and prayed again for the world to change".
(Translated from French)
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