Film Review: Found Memories

Caffeinate yourself—severely—before this one.

In all cinema, there may never be a town more forgotten than Found Memories’ Jutuomba, a minute Brazilian village at the end of some defunct railroad tracks and populated by a group of elderly souls who, it’s said, “have forgotten how to die.” Into their desolate midst, where the church offers the most razzamatazz to be found, comes Rita (Lisa Fávero), a photographer hypnotized by the contrast of the lush, verdant setting and its dried-out, withered inhabitants. She tries to find some kind of nightlife but is even rejected by a drunk on the street and becomes ever more intrigued by the mysteriously locked local cemetery.

Rita focuses on Madalena (Sonia Guedes), whose daily duty it is to make the town’s bread. Like everyone else around her, she is a methodical sort, and the intensive kneading which goes into her dough comprises a large part of the action here. Don’t expect any garrulous, worldly wisdom from her ancient mouth either, as she is as taciturn as everybody else here. “If bread doesn't breathe, it gets stiff” is about as much as she discloses at any given moment. Oh, yes, there’s coffee-making too, an activity we watch brewing in real time, which she shares with Antonio (Luiz Serra), a codger she bickers with every morning over their communal breakfast. Madalena writes letters to her dead husband every night, a ritual which duly impresses Rita, whose overall observation of the place is “I’ve never heard so much silence.”

Julia Murat’s debut narrative feature is a heartfelt, intensely serious portrait of a place and community suspended in time. She favors picturesque long shots and single, slow takes, with the accent on slow. The film makes Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness (which it somehow kept reminding me of) or Visconti’s Ludwig or the entire oeuvre of Ozu look like a snappy Warner’s pre-code programmer by comparison. One wants to feel that this is all a conscious aesthetic decision on the part of the director, inspired by such films as Jia Zhangke’s Still Life and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life, which Murat has professed to admire. But all the viewer-challenging, lingered-on moments smack more often of a novice artiste’s indecision about when to just let go of an image. Watching Found Memories, you will either acquire the most severe case of nervous leg known to man or just succumb and let yourself be lulled into a virtual experience of rural torpor.