sat 17/04/2021

Memories of My Father review - the richness of childhood, the cruelty of history | reviews, news & interviews

Memories of My Father review - the richness of childhood, the cruelty of history

Memories of My Father review - the richness of childhood, the cruelty of history

A moving father-son bond resonates in adaptation of Colombian family memoir

Family closeness: Nicolás Reyes, left, with Javier Cámara

Spanish director Fernando Trueba’s Memories of My Father adapts the Colombian writer Héctor Abad Faciolince’s 2006 family memoir, which was published in English as Oblivion: the Spanish-lan

Spanish director Fernando Trueba’s Memories of My Father adapts the Colombian writer Héctor Abad Faciolince’s 2006 family memoir, which was published in English as Oblivion: the Spanish-language title of both book and film, El Olvido Que Seremos (“Forgotten We’ll Be”), more literally catches the mood of the writer’s tribute to his father, Héctor Abad Gómez, a doctor and prominent social reformer who was murdered by paramilitaries in his native town of Medellin in 1987.

The writer realised that, two decades after his father’s death, his achievements were starting to be forgotten, even in close family circles. Trueba’s film, co-scripted by the director’s brother David, himself a respected director, with Faciolince, comes across as a loving “voyage around my father”: it captures with special poignancy the close relationship between Héctor Snr (played by Almodovar favourite Javier Cámara) and his son, an absolutely winning performance by Nicolás Reyes as the boy more often known by his nickname “Quiquín”. Their bond was especially close given that there were five sisters, mostly older, in the family.Memories of My Father Memories of My Father splits its timeline between Héctor’s childhood in the 1970s in the bosom of family life, and his youth, from 1983 onwards, seen in perspective from his student years in Turin with return visits to Medellin, including at the time of his father’s murder. Abad Snr was running for mayor of the city at that time and knew that he was on a paramilitary hit list, in which he was described as a “medic to guerillas, false democrat, dangerous due to popular sympathy in upcoming Medellín mayoral elections. Useful idiot of the Communist Party”. One of the paradoxes of his reformist position, especially in academic circles, was that he was criticised by both sides, attracting hostile graffiti for both his supposed left- and right-wing sympathies.

He defined his own position as one of humanist neutrality, though in the way that he opposed the dominant influence of the Church he was surely closer to the left: that church-state opposition has its humorous aspects in a film that can be rich in comedy, not least the presence of the family's live-in nanny Sister Josefa (Luz Myriam Guarín, a scene-stealer), and its ties to the local Archbishop. In typical fashion, when Héctor was born, his parents couldn’t decide whether his face reminded them more of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev or the newly elected Pope, John XXIII.

That division between the decades is highlighted in the cinematography of Sergio Iván Castaño, clear black and white for the 1980s, expressing the darker encroaching atmosphere of that time, set against glorious colour hues devoted to the 1970s. The latter creates an impression of the rich, almost luscious abundance of family life, though it’s clear that while this cultured, professional family is “well-off”, it's not detached from wider society. Even when the father’s work on city sanitation takes him into the slums (in the company of an American colleague, a cameo from US indie director Whit Stillman), the atmosphere there seems far removed indeed from the poverty that we usually associate with such areas across Latin America.

But even such apparently moderate social activity earned enemies for Abad Snr, who was forced for a while into exile, an absence keenly felt by his son which, in turn, made his return all the sweeter. There’s less poignancy when Héctor himself (now played by Juan Pablo Urrego) comes back from Turin in 1983, initially to attend an event marking his father’s exclusion from his university position for the public advocacy roles that he has taken on: Héctor has become something of a callow young man, relating to the life he finds in his hometown with none of the committed curiosity that characterises his father, even when the latter consciously exposes him to local injustices. The consciousness that would eventually prompt the memoir, which became a bestseller, comes to him only gradually.

Memories of My Father has its uneven moments, aspects of plot that feel rather a diversion from any central narrative, not least a short scene that records the death of an elder sister, played out over the accompaniment of the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday”. But its key element, the closeness of this father-son bond – “tell Dad not to adore me so much”, Hector asks at one point – is always convincing, as is our sense of the growing cruelty of a society that goes after those who are most concerned to improve it (Abad Snr’s remark, “Life isn’t worth much in this country”, proves tragically prescient). The conclusion builds with incremental power, while Cámara, with a certain physical resemblance to Mstislav Rostropovich, has a glorious sense of mischief throughout. Trueba’s film is not devoid of sentimentality – indeed, visually, it might be said to exploit just such sweetness – but the inspiring example of his hero, a man who put his beliefs above his own life, is genuinely moving.

Clear black and white for the 1980s, expressing the darker encroaching atmosphere of those times, is set against glorious colour hues devoted to the 1970s

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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