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Faded images come alive in Brazilian film
“Found Memories” will be shown Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Historic Yuma Theatre, 254 S. Main St. The screening, part of the Arizona Western College Foundation's Thursdays at the Theatre, includes an independent short film and a hosted discussion. Language is Portuguese, with English subtitles. Run time of the feature is 90 minutes; admission is $5.
Among many other things, this artistic film makes the point that depth of experience and richness of memory can be found in the most unexpected of people — in passers-by we see right in front of us but don't notice, in people who drift as shadows in the far corners of our peripheral vision, in those who strut and fret their lives out far from our view.
Set in a village at the end of a disused railroad line and featuring a tiny community of elderly citizens living out their ageless routines, “Found Memories” is a diamond in the rough, a blossom that begins as the tiniest of buds and opens up into a subtle but sublime specimen.
Creatures of habit
Madeline is an old woman who follows the same, mostly solitary habits every day of her life, waking up early to bake biscuits and take them to the emptied-out café by the tracks. There the owner, Antonio, is performing his own ritual of grinding and brewing his bad coffee while arguing good-naturedly with Madeline about her arrangement of the fresh bread on the shelves.
Shortly, they go sip their coffee on the bench out front. Antonio predicts rain, which never comes, and Madeline wonders if he'd be so kind as to be quiet for awhile. Next they go, along with the dozen or so other inhabitants of the area, to the tiny church snuggled against the hillside, where they hear Mass, after which everyone adjourns to the church courtyard for the midday meal.
Finally, Madeline cleans up the front of the church cemetery, watering the flowers within reach through the locked iron gate. And each night, to the light of an oil lantern, she writes a letter to her dead husband and stores it with the others in a tin box.
Madeline's regularity is broken one day when she returns home to find a young woman sitting on her front stoop. Rita, who found the town by following the tracks, hopes Madeline will let her stay a few days.
It turns out that Rita's avocation is photographing worn-out objects, like weather-beaten doors or roofless buildings or the cross above the church altar. Soon, though, she gets interested in human subjects, beginning with Madeline's hands as she kneads the bread and eventually including the old men of color who loiter about the town square.
At first Madeline and all the other residents are skeptical of this youthful apparition from another world, who dances around freely in the dark with headphones on and who wants permission to take photos inside the cemetery. But eventually even the town drunk can sit still to sip moonshine with Rita on the curb at night, and she even blends naturally into the holiday street dance, with the older generation's popular music wafting from the weather-beaten Victrola.
Our daily bread
One compelling feature that arises like a spiritual presence in the film is the black-and-white photos that Rita develops in her makeshift darkroom and hangs around the house to dry. They are all true works of art with a personality of their own. Some of the double exposures, perhaps superimposing some old person over a crumbling wall, seem to endow inanimate objects with actual souls.
Another essential element of the film is the undercurrent of what the director calls Magical Realism, a characteristic style of Latin American literature and cinema for the past generation. For example, why don't the clocks seem to work, and what does it mean that God ordered the cemetery closed?
What it all adds up to is a film that swings wide of any of the uses we're accustomed to in the art form. Most especially, it examines themes we hardly ever see in our popular culture, questioning whether our frantic pace of activity and our obsessive consumption of sensation and experience really are superior to a life of tranquility and routine.