In Memory Of Me

In Memory Of Me

****1/2

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

"A thriller of the soul," said the Italian press, and if that sounds like florid hyperbole, I’ll add to it. In Memory of Me is simply enthralling, mesmeric, austerely picturesque and approachably profound filmmaking.

Events centre around Christo Jivko’s Andrea, a successful young man who we meet at his interview to join a closed monastic religious order in Venice. Discontent with his superficial modern living Andrea is responding to growing religious tendencies and seeking a sense of greater personal humanity. However, as he begins his novitiate at the monastery, a time of perpetual scrutiny from his colleagues and seniors, all is not as he was expecting.

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Monks are encouraged to spy on each other, invited to point out their colleagues’ flaws and some are silently wandering the marbled corridors at night. Soon Andrea is observing others silently, questioning his superiors and doubting the order’s principles. Such a description hints at a shallower, clandestine and conspiratorial piece than this really is; there is far more at work here. As Andrea’s expectations are confounded and his doubts bolstered he is slowly forced to question his beliefs, his true understanding of God and what his very meaning in life is.

Action and dialogue are sparse so what takes place is weighted with intent and import, although never ponderously so. Writer and director Saverio Costanzo is not focusing just on the trials of religious and cloistered study, but on elements of daily and lifetime living that are profoundly, universally resonant. He has crafted a superbly measured piece that moves at the deliberate pace of the monastic world to build up a compelling tension from the simplest of exchanges and observations. As the routines of the monks lives become apparent you are seduced into their world and the spiritual and emotional grapples they are experiencing by the austere soundtrack and beautifully elegant cinematography. Every static frame, close up, corridor-spanning shot and smoothly gliding camera pan is artfully composed, atmospherically lit and utterly serving the characters’ journeys.

Jivkov (John in The Passion Of The Christ) is excellent as Andrea, conveying conviction and misgiving, fear and intrigue with the subtlest of movements and at times acting powerfully with little more than an unblinking stare. He is matched by Filippo Timi’s Zanna, bringing potent, barely expressed but effusive emotion and inner tumult to his monk-in-training. You cannot help but become engrossed in their story until the very end.

There are strong similarities in tone and tempo to Philip Groning's recent documentary Into Great Silence. At a time when there is much political and media focus on differences between people’s religious beliefs and actions, the films’ meditations on the burdens of and promises to faith are affectingly relevant. That In Memory Of Me resides with you long after the credits is an indication of Costanzo then stepping beyond a merely selective commentary to something far more personal immersive.

Superior Italian cinema.

Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2007
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A man tired of his superficial life decides to join the priesthood but finds a web of deceit in the monastery which makes him question his faith.
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Paul Griffiths ****1/2

Director: Saverio Costanzo

Writer: Saverio Costanzo, based on the novel The Perfect Jesuitby Furio Monicelli

Starring: Christo Jivkov, André Hennicke, Filipp Timi, Marco Baliani, Fausto Russi Alesi, Stefano Antonucci, Rocco Andrea Barone, Paolo Bizzeti, Massimo Cagnina, Milutin Dapcevic, Matteo D'Arienzo, Ben Pace, Allesandro Quattro

Year: 2007

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Italy

Festivals:

London 2007

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If you like this, try:

Innocence
Into Great Silence
Private