Friday, September 10, 2021

Memory House Review: A Sinister And Imaginative Look At Race In Brazil

Release date: September 3, 2021
Running time: 105 minutes
Written and Directed by: João Paulo Miranda Maria
Cast: Antonio Pitanga, Ana Flavia Cavalcanti, Sam Louwyck

João Paulo Miranda Maria explores the racial tensions of modern-day Brazil in his lush, haunting debut feature rooted in Brazilian folklore.  Living in modern times but trapped in a colonial nightmare, Cristovam (Antônio Pitanga) is an Indigenous black man from the rural north of Brazil who migrated for work during the economic boom to an affluent Austrian enclave in the south. Over three decades later, he is now lost in a decadent community. Informed that he must take a wage cut at the milk factory where he has worked for many years and confronted by virulent racism on a daily basis, he becomes more and more estranged from the white world and finds refuge in an abandoned home where he discovers artifacts reminiscent of his past. As Cristovam rediscovers his roots, he comes to the realization that nothing has changed. The attacks he endures in the community, both mental and physical, awaken in him a legacy of abuse carried down for centuries and Cristovam begins a spiritual and physical metamorphosis.

Memory House has a much more sinister start than I expected that sets the mood of this film.  The movie is centered around Cristovam, who is an indigenous character that is on the outskirts of society for various reasons.  He lives in a run down house that is constantly getting vandalized and broken into.  And Cristovam himself is harassed and sometimes treated poorly for seemingly no reason.  At times I couldn't tell if it was his sometimes off putting attitude that made him an outcast or the fact that he was an outcast caused his mood to sour.  Probably some combination of the two.  But what is painfully clear in his treatment is that it has been normalized by those around him.  Kids are constantly harassing him and doing some terrible things, and adults also treat him unfairly and ask too much of him.

The film does have some really great cinematic touches as well.  There is an overarching sense of dread as some of the threats to Cristovam are real and you never know when they will strike.  And this sense of dread permeates the film.  I really loved how there were small touches to make the dairy factory he worked feel otherworldly, from the suits to the rituals that occurred there, this film gave the factory a sinister sci-fi feel.  And much of the film takes place at night, with Cirstovam never quite knowing what will happen when he enters his home.  By turning his home into a place of constant harassment, it really shows just how much this affects his life.  And the hallmark of the film, the traditional masks that some of the characters wear, do also contribute to the otherworldly feel of this film.  

However, my main problem with Memory House is that I just didn't have much sympathy for Cristovam.  Maybe this is due to my own lack of cultural understanding of his situation, but generally he came off as unlikeable, which hurt my sympathy for him.  It was strange that he wasn't sympathetic given all that was happening to him, but it did hurt my overall enjoyment of the movie.  And he has some actions that seem extreme even for his circumstances that caused me to again not feel sympathy.  Additionally, the film devolves in the end as the plot seems to spiral further and further.  The man's actions do get more eccentric and when the big finale happens, which was an important symbolic action, I just did not have any concern left for him.  And during this all the film gets stranger and stranger.  And I was also hoping that the well beautiful and imaginative masks and outfits that form a lot of the most striking images in the film would have made appearances throughout, but they only appear towards the end of the film.  

Memory House has a great setup, with some interesting cinematography, a consistent sense of dread, and an impactful conclusion to highlight race in modern-day Brazil.

Rent it.

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Memory House is available on September 3, 2021 via Virtual Cinema, VOD, and digital platforms.  For showtimes, click here.

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