Between pandemic and explosion at the port of Beirut, their film is a survivor: a couple of Lebanese directors are released on Wednesday January 19 Memory Box, a puzzle-like dive into the memory of a family from the Lebanese diaspora living in Montreal (Canada).
The third film by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, contemporary artists exhibited all over the world (Tate Modern in London, Center Pompidou in Paris, MoMa in New York…), who received the Marcel-Duchamp Prize in 2017, would have may not see the light of day.
Filming ended just before the explosion of August 4, 2020 at the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people and injured 6,500, and destroyed neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital before their eyes.
The apartment, the production company and a good part of the couple’s works, stored near the port, vanished that day. The film “resonates incredibly with the present”, explained Khalid Joreige to AFP during the last Berlinale, where the film was selected.
The time to regain their senses, the couple wondered if it was necessary to keep the end of the film, and a key scene of family reunion, precisely at the port of Beirut, bathed in light. The disaster lends new weight to the film, which is “both disturbing and saddening”, continues Joana Hadjithomas, who wants to believe that in the end, “after disasters, there will be regenerations”.
In this film, wounds and intimate secrets will resurface when the family’s granddaughter, Alex, opens a bulky package of kraft paper sent from Beirut. Inside, notebooks, cassettes and photos bear witness to a life before that he was told so little about: those years of civil war, in Beirut, lived by his mother Maia, before exile.
This past frozen on silver film, which Maia wants to forget, her daughter Alex, smartphone in hand, will exhume. “It all started when I found notebooks that I had written for six years in the 1980s for my best friend who had gone to live in Paris”, says Joana Hadjithomas.
These memories of a country whose inhabitants “have the feeling of not sharing a common history” according to her, are “knitted” with thousands of photographs taken by his companion Khalil Joreige at the same time in Lebanon, to tell the story – invented – of the film. The result is a rich and inventive mix of movie scenes, montages, and 1980s Proust madeleines: bell bottoms and Blondie hits.