In Memory Of Me Review
You’ve got to admire any director who is willing to take a risk and make a commercial movie on a subject as uncinematic as faith. Without getting into experimental avant-garde techniques, such an interiorised subject inevitably calls for some another method of representation to take the place of regular narrative. Unusually, Saverio Constanzo’s In Memoria di Me draws on Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises for structure and through meditation and contemplation manages to create suspense and the horror that face those asking of themselves the film’s difficult central question - “Who am I?”.
This is the dilemma faced by Andrea (Christo Jivkov), a young man who has given up everything he has in life – and he seemingly had more than most – to enter a monastery and give himself over completely to be an instrument of God. If the decision to give everything up can’t have been an easy one, the journey to becoming a priest is even more difficult for the young man, who must dedicate himself to a long period of silence, isolation and prayer – time to contemplate who he really is and whether the calling is a true one. The period of reflection works both ways – Andrea will be challenged by his superiors in the monastery and by his fellow novices to question himself, learn his weaknesses and report the failings of others.
Living in silence, living with oneself and one’s weaknesses and unable to speak to others, it’s a lonely and difficult path to follow and one that becomes too much for some of the men. Andrea sees novices like Fausto (Fausto Russo Alesi) and Zanna (Filippo Timi) struggle with their faith and their calling and feels the urge to reach-out and help, but such intervention is not welcomed. Each man must make his own journey. As guidance in this journey of self-discovery, the Father Superior (Marco Baliani) recommends that any trace of individuality, character and personality must be withheld, subsumed, wiped out by unquestioning adherence to ritual and dogma as a means of cultivating the stoicism and impassiveness that will bring them closer to God. Rather than assist each other, the superiors encourage the other novices to seek out the failings in their colleagues, report them and exploit them, and Andrea finds himself denounced by others as vain, cold, inquisitive and judgemental. Watching other novices crack under the pressure of a strict and unforgiving regime, the constant self-questioning inevitably provokes an identity crisis within the young man.
This is all very interesting material, but how exactly do you make a film out of it? What is daring about Costanzo’s approach is how rather than seek to find standard narrative dramatic devices, which would be far from convincing in this context, the director immerses himself rather in the interior world of the novices. Having taken the actors and himself on a spiritual retreat the director realised that the story could only be told from the inside out and, rather unconventionally, realising that Loyola’s methods in many respects mirror the Stanislavsky acting technique, he finds a sense of structure in the Jesuit founder’s Spiritual Exercises.
The film, perversely shot entirely within a very limited number of interior locations in the Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, is also used to reflect the conflict within Andrea. The world, housed within the perfection of Palladian architecture, is an ordered one of rituals and strict asceticism, but such striving for purity and perfection can also often appear quite sinister. This was recognised and used to strong effect by Lucile Hadzihalilovic in Innocence and it is similarly exploited by Saverio Costanzo in In Memory Of Me. Like the journey through childhood to a mysterious place in the woods in Hadzihalilovic’s film, the doubts of Fausto, Zanna and eventually Andrea are all centred on an infirmary that represents their sickness of the soul and the potential death of their idea of themselves.
At times, Costanzo over indulges the horror imagery this inspires, in one scene making the novices seem like zombies shuffling aimlessly and without volition down a corridor – but there is terror to be confronted in the film and it is a real one. The director creates a perfect sense of inner turmoil and personal torment out of the locations, through ambience, music, sound and imagery with the use of paintings showing the suffering and martyrdom of Jesus and the saints. In Memory Of Me struggles with the question of faith, not in a method that is critical of blind religious observance, but cognisant rather of the difficulties faced by those seeking to understand it. The question the film ultimately asks then is consequently rather more spiritually human than merely religious. How can you know if you have true faith or believe in anything if you can’t believe in yourself?
In Memory Of Me is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
The film is presented anamorphically at an aspect ratio of about 1.80:1. The progressive DVD transfer manages to capture the requisite tone for the film with its cool tones and dark shadows well represented in a strong, clear image. There is inevitably a little bit of grain that comes with shooting in all these indoor locations with minimal lighting, but the transfer handles it reasonably well, though the grain can dance around a little. Some cross colouration may also be evident in the backgrounds. Otherwise, with scarcely a mark on the print and no sign of compression artefacts, the image is close to how you would imagine the film is meant to look.
There is a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes, and without having listened to the stereo track I feel that in this case the surround option is definitely the way to go here. Crisp, dynamic and atmospheric it covers the full range of the sounds from soft to forceful, with reverberation in the echoing halls and interiors. It manages to achieve this without being over-showy or drawing attention to itself, except in one scene of fireworks over Venice which is visually and aurally spectacular. The music score, equally important in setting the tone of the film, is also well handled across the soundscape.
English subtitles are provided and are optional in a clear, readable white font.
The film’s Trailer inevitably fails to do justice to the subject of the film, but certainly captures the suspense aspect and the film’s whole look and feel.
A long Making Of remains interesting throughout, focussing on interviews with the director and actors, who talk in depth about the characters, their actions and the choices they make. Costanzo talks about the novel that was the inspiration for the film and his approach to realising it, giving some idea of the amount of preparation that went into the film, and the methods used to bring it to the screen. Some behind the scenes footage is included.
In the Interview with Saverio Costanzo, the director talks further in excellent English about the subject of In Memory Of Me and what drew him to it, stating that he wanted to look at the search for something deeper in a world that has lost ideologies. He admits to being a big fan of Stanley Kubrick (which may explain why the film often reminded me of certain training camp scenes in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket), and was particularly inspired by the late director’s powerful use of music.
With a difficult subject and often internalised action and performances, Saverio Costanzo’s In Memory Of Me could require an act of faith in the viewer, and not everyone is going to find that it’s a challenge they are willing to take. The director however does everything he can to create that necessary mood of contemplation for the viewer to slip into (not unlike that sustained for Into Great Silence) and there are rewards here for anyone willing to persevere with its unusual approach. At the very least, it’s immensely heartening to see a new Italian director willing to take the risk of tackling such difficult material and largely succeeding in the endeavour. Artificial Eye’s presentation is to the usual superb high standard and the extra features are well-chosen, well-presented and informative.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 00:03:13