Truth and Movies

Memories of My Father

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Fernando Trueba

Starring

Javier Cámara Juan Pablo Urrego Nicolás Reyes Cano

Anticipation.

Was set to play the cancelled 2020 Cannes Film Festival.

Enjoyment.

Enjoyable on a very superficial level, but ends up giving itself over to sentimentalism.

In Retrospect.

More interested in the dull irony of painting an atheist as a Christ-like figure.

Spanish veteran director Fernando Trueba returns with a handsome if dramatically inert autobiography.

There’s no doubt that there are good, pure, selfless people in this world who give over their lives entirely to enrich the lot of their fellow man. What Fernando Trueba’s Memories of My Father proves is that they don’t necessarily make for particularly compelling movie subjects.

Spanish actor Javier Cámara (best known to UK audiences for his astonishing turn in Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her) plays Héctor Abad Gómez, a physician and university professor in Medellín, Columbia during the 1970s who spreads love and wisdom among his students, peers and a large family of his own.

The film goes to crushing lengths to certify Héctor’s essential goodness, not allowing a single moral chink to appear in his armour across its bloated 136-minute runtime. He is liberal at a time of fascist groundswell among the government and military. He is secular without upsetting the stoically religious within his social set. He is practical as a parent, opting for freedom of expression within a set of loose boundaries. And as played by the always-appealing Cámara, he’s also a charming bastard. In short, it’s quite easy to resent him and wish him ill.

Despite the fact that Héctor is surrounded by women – his doting wife; his many radiant daughters; his endlessly supportive secretary – the film is solely interested in his relationship with his son, also named Héctor (nicknamed Quiquín and played by Nicolás Reyes Cano as a pre-teen and Juan Pablo Urrego as a student), and remains blithely uncritical of the fact that this father spends much of his spare time strengthening male rather than female bonds. And yet, aside from a single short scene, there is no antagonism between the pair, and much of the story is spent observing the gooey transference of life lessons across the generational divide.

For the most part, it’s a well constructed film, and Trueba still has the eye for composition and feel for camera movement that netted him an Academy Award in 1992 for Belle Époque. The relaxed manner in which the actors interact with one another, and the way the bustling family scenes are staged (Trueba is very good at big dinner table scenes) definitely help to make for an easy (if lengthy) ride.

Yet there’s something inherently unsatisfying about the film’s ambling structure, as the first hour flies by and nothing of great import has really happened. When ominous clouds start to form in the sky, Trueba ops for blunt signposting, akin to when a character is shown randomly coughing and saying “Oh, I hope this cough doesn’t get any worse.” Its big climax is almost comically predictable, as Héctor finds himself in the sightlines of the country’s far-right paramilitary death squads.

Published 25 Mar 2021

Tags: Fernando Trueba

Anticipation.

Was set to play the cancelled 2020 Cannes Film Festival.

Enjoyment.

Enjoyable on a very superficial level, but ends up giving itself over to sentimentalism.

In Retrospect.

More interested in the dull irony of painting an atheist as a Christ-like figure.

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