Directed by Julia Murat
March 22 at MoMA; March 25 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as part of New Directors/New Films
You can tell that no one's passed this way in a while by the leisurely way that Madalena (Sonia Guedes) walks the middle of the train tracks, which snake around to the overgrown row of stone buildings where each day she delivers bread to a shop without customers. The setting of Brazilian writer-director Julia Murat's debut feature, Found Memories (originally known as Historias que so existem quando lembradas, or "Stories That Only Exist When Remembered"), is a rural village in Brazil whose population has dwindled to just a handful of senescent holdovers. By candlelight, Madalena writes to her husband, who's buried in the locked local cemetery. The lightly magical-realist elements reveal themselves gradually, mostly thanks to the inquiries of a young photographer, Rita (Lisa Favero), who one day turns up in the cut-off parish, to everyone's quiet shock. Her pictures, many taken with homemade cameras obscura, suggest the villagers have long since begun fading out from the material world—which is perhaps one reason why they hold so fast to their earthly routines (Madalena rises before the sun to bake bread, the community takes its meals together, etc.).
Token outsider Rita's function here is too transparent for the film to properly sustain the intended out-of-time spell, but it's interesting to watch Murat explore the borderland between the austere formalist festival picture and the more conventional art-house programmer. Found Memories attempts to access the mystical via longish takes and an almost documentary interest in a remote landscape that has preserved a since-time-immemorial way of life, but the body of literature to which it's spiritually linked will likely be familiar to a somewhat wider stateside audience: Murat's film feels like a pass at a more grounded Pedro Páramo.