Reviews Short Narrative

Memorie Sbiadite [Faded Memories] (2020) – 3 stars

Director: Valentina Galdi

Writer: Valentina Galdi

Cast: Gianni D’Amato, Antonio Moscatiello, Alessia Petrone

Running time: 11mins

We have all done things we are not proud of in our past. At some stage, everyone has done something to burn bridges, and drive people who cared about us away. We prioritise the wrong things, we lie, we let people down – and ultimately, we all come to regret every moment of the whole sorry affair. With that comes an innate desire not to dwell on the past; to numb the wincing pain we encounter when revisiting those shameful chapters; to forget. It is an urge that must be resisted.

After revisiting one of my own particular moments of madness this week, a wise man recently told me, “The struggle of memory over forgetting is the struggle against tyranny.” Paraphrasing Czech author Milan Kundera was entirely the right point to make then – the moment we give in to the power of forgetting, we submit to a form of tyranny, which disables our ability to improve ourselves, or indeed the world around us.

I say all this, because I don’t think it is often that I see an independent short film get the nuance of this particular issue quite right. Time after time, I have come across shorts looking to emulate particular episodes of Black Mirror, where an individual uses technology or medication to literally live in the past – and while that can be just as dangerous as blotting something out of our memory, when those filmmakers attempt to tie things up in a nice bow, they usually heavy-handedly suggest “the past is best left there.” It is a more philosophical way of encouraging viewers to “forget about it,” move on and live in the moment. But neglecting how our present moment is informed by our past is a dangerous denial, which risks us continuing the same dangerous patterns we previously lived.

Valentina Galdi’s Memorie Sbiadite (or Faded Memories) is by far the most nuanced attempt I have seen from a young filmmaker trying to address this particular topic – and it deserves a great deal of praise for that. The film follows Vito (Gianni D’Amato) – a young man tortured by visions of some great, lost love (Alessia Petrone). The nameless beauty dances through his waking consciousness, constantly reminding him of some past transgression that forced the two apart.

Amid these episodes, we see Vito shakily downing pills – and like so many other shorts, we might initially assume he is taking some kind of medicinal MacGuffin to bring on the hallucinations. The assumptions that he has been medicating amid a refusal to move on from his lost love are further stoked by his dramatic disposal of the pills – as though he is finally ready to put the past behind him.

However, the film comes alive when an excellent piece of dialogue with his friend (Antonio Moscatiello) sees him unveil what is really going on. Again, director Galdi should take credit for this – having also written the screenplay for Memorie Sbiadite – as the following discussion is impeccably scripted; but D’Amato and Moscatiello must also take their share of the plaudits. In their capable hands, dialogue which could have come across as overly intellectualised is delivered with passion and authenticity.

What transpires is that Vito has been medicating for the opposite reasons we speculated. He has been taking pills to supress memories of his former life in their entirety. His friend is concerned at first when Vito admits to giving up his pill-habit – worried he will be overcome by emotion and be unable to function normally. But Vito defends his choice, because while that is a risk, what should scare him more is “all the people who don’t feel anything, not even themselves.”

Vito notes with disdain that swathes of people live in denial that anything sad ever befell them, that they are ‘perfect,’ and in doing so they do not know themselves any better for the mistakes they made. Instead, he insists, “that voice, the visions, that girl, they all belong to me. They are part of me, my life.” Rather than separating himself as “healthy and crazy,” good or bad, as his medication would, Vito wants to learn to live with both sides of himself – and to be better, and more honest for it. On this basis, Galdi has presented us the dangers of living in the past, the problems of only living in the present, and how – as difficult as it might be – living as a synthesis of the two is the only way forward; an exceptional piece of storytelling.

That is not to say the film is perfect, though. Galdi is a better conveyor of themes than a technician. The editing is slightly rough-and-ready, both in terms of sound and visuals, while the film is rather over-saturated with music borderlining on the mawkish. The gorgeous Italian hillsides the film takes place in are also more than a little wasted amid some pallid, washed-out shots. Meanwhile, final moments of the film see its discipline lapse into allusions of some hastily constructed, fantastical element.

As Vito and friend exit together, heading to a local bar for some bonding and a beer, the laughter of the mysterious woman can be heard. Vito’s friend glances over his shoulder, and a freeze-frame sees him staring back as if to see if someone is there. The suggestion there might be some kind of alternative reality that is torturing Vito, rather than simply his memories, is a strange and unnecessary inclusion – but to deliver it in a way that seems to resemble the conclusion of Thriller is utterly bizarre. It is a disappointing lapse – and as I have said before, in the short film format, even the small stuff can cost you dearly.

With all that being said, there are a great number of positives Valentina Galdi and her team can take from this. Most notably, the ability to write and direct engaging dialogue is something worth its weight in gold in indy cinema; but also, the ability to take a subject like this, and largely avoid trivialising it in the way many others have is well worthy of praise. Brava.

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