Death Ends A Holiday: Julia Murat’s film Found Memories

By Daniel Garrett

Found Memories
Directed by Julia Murat 
Cine Argentino
Film Movement, 2012

Film is about image and sound, the movement of one picture after the other: and it is about other things too—time and age, reflection and memory, beauty and its torment and destruction, and the passing of tradition from one generation to the next; and such is the film Found Memories, taking place in a small community of old people living near an old, otherwise abandoned train depot and hilltop church when they are visited by a walking young woman with a backpack and cameras. The young woman, Rita, is mystifying at first: how did she come there, and why? Rita is not quite a tourist—rather, she is a seeker, someone who wants to see and to touch something old, real, true; and though she does not say that, the evidence is in the photographs she takes, first of old structures and things, then of old people. The old people, who appear as ordinary as earth and water, are special to Rita; and they are complimented by the attention, and look like pale ghosts or dark phantoms in her pictures. Rita finds shelter with an old woman, Madalena, a baker of the village bread, while she is there; and the old woman, who still writes letters to her dead husband, shares some of her life with the young woman, including a story of how a caretaker put Madalena’s small son high on a cupboard to take his picture, a cupboard from which he fell, fatally. Photography has been about vanity and dangerous infatuation as well as the commemoration of social events in the old woman’s life.

Rita is somewhat androgynous but pretty, and shy but brave; and she can be still and solemn, especially serious when pursuing her art, but that does not mean that she will not be caught dancing in a fast, herky-jerky rock music style, as if she were herself a puppet or a crazed director of the oddest orchestra. In a short time, the young woman’s presence is accepted by the old villagers in Found Memories (also known as Stories That Exist Only When Remembered). It is understood that she, Rita, does not mean the villagers harm, and when she helps Madalena to bake and deliver the daily bread, Rita has a use. The villagers share food as part of their communal meal, with most if not all bringing food or drink. The old men play tossing games. The priest reminds them of their blessings and values. They have their rituals in this village in which people seem to have forgotten to die, but the arrival of youth and of the self-consciousness that photography brings conjure the specter of death as a possibility. Are they happy or unhappy? Are they afraid or resigned? Are any of them ready to die? The simplicity of the lives of the people in the village gives them a dignified, mysterious quality verging on myth: can they stay alive forever, simply because they choose to? The film achieves its power honestly, plainly, slowly, but power—and finally charm—it does have. Its imagery—jungle and mountain, weather-beaten buildings, rusting trains, small cemetery, and aged faces—is stark and its score somewhat heavy but its final effect is joy.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today. Daniel, who has written about American and international film for Offscreen, Cinetext, and The Compulsive Reader, admires classic and modern literature and philosophy, and likes painting and sculpture, French film, Afghan and Indian food, jazz, rock, and world music.