Italian film 'Ricordi?' (Remember?) screened recently at Cairo’s 11th Panorama of the European Film in the presence of its director Valerio Mieli, who discussed the film with audiences afterwards.
The film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival was followed by its success overseas, resounding with Egyptian audiences at the Gouna Film Festival this September and at the Panorama.
On the second screening at the Panorama, audience members said it was their second or even third time watching the film, attesting to its commercial appeal.
From the inside out
Starring Luca Marinelli and Linda Caridi, Ricordi? recounts a long love story told entirely through the memories of the two protagonists.
Their first meeting, their time together, time apart, and with other people are all subjectively recounted through the misty lens of their memories, like unreliable narrators.
Not only are memories of the same event different for both of them, but their memories change with their moods and over time.
The plot itself is quite classical, and the skeleton of the timeline is linear. It’s the montage of memories that makes the film unique and refreshing, engaging and memorable; a meticulous feat credited to film editor Desideria Rayner.
Daria D'Antonio’s cinematography also captured and reinforced a charming, intimate mise en scène. She draws us into the couple’s personal lives with tight close up shots, and harnesses the magic in the all the places and spaces that frame the story.
Mieli’s previous film, his 2009 debut Ten Winters, was also a lengthy love story told in an unconventional way, following a couple over the course of 10 years, as their lives repeatedly push them apart and then back together.
He compares the two films in an interview with Cineuropa, saying that Ten Winters was told objectively from the outside, “like opening a window every year to see what is happening,” while Ricordi? is told from the inside out and the perspectives of the characters.
Earlier reviews have described Mieli’s style as "between realism and fairytale," a trait that seems he carried on to Ricordi?
(Photo: Still from Ricordi?)
Language of memories
Between his and her perspectives of how things unravelled between them, the film plays out like a stream of consciousness where every moment is scattered into several memories.
The film is as much about the "language of memories" as it is about the character development.
It’s about how they both grow and change based on their memories, how their memories shape not only who they are, but how they behave at a given moment.
By bringing us back to both characters’ childhood memories, Mieli invites us to think of how they can remain the same person, but also transform and become very different.
At first we see a striking difference between their memories. In his mind, the party where they first meet is gloomy, quiet and even sad. He wears his usual dark blue t-shirt and she is wearing a red dress. In her memory, the party was festive, well lit and lively, and he is wearing a suit and she dons a white dress.
Mieli makes it a very clear distinction, alternating between both views in a way that explains the film and lays the groundwork for his approach.
Having established this, it goes on to colour our perception of the film. We are not sure whose memory is more accurate and have surrendered the quest to find one true version of the events.
Instead it liberates us to enjoy the journey through the muddled, subjective memories of the characters and allows us to connect with them.
As their relationship develops and the film progresses, their language becomes less polarised, and it becomes less clear whose memories they are.
This feels intuitive on a visual, emotional and symbolic level; as the couple bonds, their language is synthesised.
The rhythm of the film reaches a harmonious peak before everything starts to come undone, and when they separate their memories become disparate versions again.
Subjective and abstract
Space, time, and identities are all abstracted and subjective in Ricordi?
Just as we never truly know exactly how an event played out, we never know how much time has passed between events, what city they are in, or even their names.
A large aspect of the story focuses on how memory is connected to places.
Mieli explains that the house where the couple lived was modelled after the one he grew up in. They had to make two sets, though, one larger than the other.
Because spaces seem larger to a small child, the character comments; "I don't remember [the house] being this small."
Even though time is suspended, timing is central to the story and plays a role in steering the relationship.
Things like missed connections, or meeting at the right time, are elements that Mieli was interested in and wanted to weave into the tale.
On his decision to keep them nameless, Mieli said in the discussion: “When I wrote the film they didn’t have names, and it felt contrived to do so afterwards. I also liked the scene where they whisper their names to each other. So I wanted to leave something that’s just privately shared between the two of them.”
It is delicate choices like these that lift the film from the otherwise worn, classic love story.
The conversations that they have are also about memories, adding another layer to the film’s themes and adding density to an already complex visual format.
In one of their first exchanges, he tells her that nostalgia makes things seem more beautiful. She, however, believes that the passage of time reveals more truth, and in retrospect we realise we were already happy.
When she suggests that he is remembering an embarrassing childhood moment incorrectly, she strikes a chord. It is as if from that moment he will start untangling his over-dramatised childhood traumas and gloomy disposition.
In turn, as he becomes more present and light hearted, her time with him starts triggering bad memories she had sugar-coated or entirely forgotten.
Her wardrobe changes from a bright, almost naïve style, to darker colours and a more mature, uptight style.
(Photo: film still from Ricordi?)
Translating a stream of consciousness
The film’s script was also written by Mieli, who trained at the Italian National Film School, and additionally studied philosophy.
The director admits the script was a challenge to put to words, and not very easy for the actors to read.
“At first I had a process more like flow writing. I then I felt it was not suitable to go about it like a novel, and started going at it more structurally,” he said.
He believes the visual format of the film makes the story easier to follow, because it tells the story in a way that is familiar to the brain and how it works in images. When writing it though, it was like translating from the language of the mind, to text and back to the mind again.
In the end, Ricordi? remained very faithful to Mieli’s script and storyboard, even while much of it was fine tuned in the editing room.
However, the film falls a bit short on the expectations it sets up, and ends up not being as "experimental" as it could be and leans more towards classic linear storytelling.
For instance, while the synopsis and Mieli himself note that there is "no present" in the film, the middle part of the film unfolds clearly in a present tense, especially since we can follow the linearity of the relationship.
Whether it was for fear of being too complex and "trippy," or just a result of the safe and structured approach, Mieli could have pushed it even further and still made a great film.
Nonetheless, it was good news for Mieli that the film was accessible and not too complex, as he mentioned during the discussion. Instead of wanting to explain his vision, Mieli seemed to appreciate the chance to hear people’s responses to his film, which were all very positive.
Pairing a collage of memories with a linear structure made for a good balance that will likely appeal to a wide range of viewers.
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