Stories That Only Exist When Remembered: Venice Film Review

Gentle-paced but rewarding drama of village life in a remote Brazilian backwater.

Co-produced with Argentina and France, Julia Murat’s first feature is a rural Brazilian fable starring veteran Sônia Guedes.

Like the honey-laced rum cachaça occasionally imbibed by its old-timer characters, Stories That Only Exist When Remembered (Historias…que so existem quando lembradas) offers a sweetly seductive form of intoxication. A confident and impressive first fiction feature from Brazilian 32-year-old director/co-writer Julia Murat, it introduces us to senior citizens who comprise the entire population of a tiny community in a forgotten corner of South America’s largest nation.

Taking its unhurried tempo from these experience-seasoned individuals and their humid environment, the alluringly shot picture ultimately repays the careful attention it demands. World premiering at Venice in the Venice Days sidebar, it will next appear at Toronto and San Sebastian, before what’s likely to be a successful meander around the festival circuit. Commercial prospects are slim, unless it amasses a decent haul of prizes along the way with 79-year-old star Sônia Guedes the most likely awards magnet.

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She is the epitome of flinty, self-reliant, third-age dignity as long-widowed Maddalena, who rises before dawn each day to bake bread for the small, food-store run by her friend Tonho (Luiz Serra). Her daily routines are rigidly and automatically observed, including worship in the crumbling parish church, and watering the flowers outside the cemetery where her husband is buried.

She can’t actually enter the graveyard as the gate has been locked by Father Josias (Ricardo Merkin) for mysterious reasonsm which may perhaps be connected to the fact that the last recorded death in the village seems to have occurred in 1976.

This odd detail is spotted by Rita (Lisa E Fávero), an itinerant photographer, who wanders into the village. She soon realizes she has found a wonderful opportunity to chronicle a community living with at least one foot in the past. The arrival of this young woman, who has modern attitudes but who is clearly fascinated by old ways (“I was born in the wrong time”), is greeted with wary caution by the villagers, who gradually welcome her into their midst. She finds lodging with Maddalena and after some initial friction the pair become friends with the older lady passing on her wisdom and bread-making skills to the newcomer.

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Murat and her scriptwriting collaborators, Maria Clara Escobar and Felipe Scholl, strike a sensitive balance between the story’s realistic and more fable-like elements, immersing us in Maddalena’s world of daily rituals through a combination of repetition and slight variation. The power of her enduring love for her deceased husband is a palpable force. She becomes visibly rejuvenated when talking about the couple’s happy times together, even writes him a love letter before bed every evening.

Lucio Bonelli’s cinematography excels during such nocturnal sequences, especially those in which Maddalena – and later Rita – moves around her kitchen by gaslight that underlights faces in painterly chiaroscuro. Daytime scenes allow Bonelli to explore a rich palette of earthy browns, oranges and yellows, evoking the palpably pungent textures and pleasure of life so very far off the beaten tracks.

Venue: Venice Film Festival
Production company: Taiga Filmes
Cast: Sônia Guedes, Lisa E Fávero, Luiz Serra, Ricardo Merkin
Director: Julia Murat
Screenwriters: Julia Murat, Maria Clara Escobar, Felipe Scholl
Producers: Lucia Murat, Julia Murat, Christian Boudier, Julia Solomonoff, Felicitas Raffo, Juliette Lepoutre, Marie-Pierre Macia
Director of photography: Lucio Bonelli
Production designers / Costume designers: Marina Kosovski, Tatiana Bond
Music: Lucas Marcier
Editor: Marina Meliande
Sales: MPM, Paris
No rating, 97 minutes