Fans of Terence Davies’ heartfelt ode to his hometown Liverpool in Of Time and the City will be drawn to Innocence of Memories, from fellow British filmmaker Grant Gee. A slow-paced yet mesmerising documentary, it interweaves an epic romance and nostalgic love letter to Istanbul to shed light on the past, present and future of its setting. Part alternative travelogue, part meditation on love and loss, it explores the nature of a great city as a living, breathing entity and how memory is inextricably linked to time and place. Gee collaborated in the writing of his latest endeavour with Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who also features throughout.
His 2008 work, The Museum of Innocence, gave rise to an exhibit of the name whose aim was to add further layers of meaning, understanding and appreciation to readers of the source text. The novel charts the rise and fall of an illicit affair between the young and beautiful Fusun with her elder cousin Kemal. It’s to and from the museum that all roads in Innocence of Memories lead as measured, dreamlike narration unfurls from each lover’s point of view. In his navigation of Kemal’s mind from the text, Gee – who both filmed and directed – roams the largely deserted, alternately shaded and streetlamp-lit alleyways and avenues of Istanbul at night. Almost entirely depopulated of people, groups of wild dogs are our sole company in an eerily quiet, other-worldly urban dreamscape.
An ever-moving camera floats and flits from one location to the next, around corners into darkened spaces and then into the light as an attempt is made to define the blurred lines between genuine memory and fictionalised embellishments. This is all achieved with the free-flowing ease of a peaceful, unconscious state. A documentary based on a museum based on a book, the intimate cultural study laid out here is almost bewildering in depth. Interviews with Pamuk shown on numerous television sets, the testimony of a taxi driver, a ferry worker on the Bosphorus, a street-sweeper, a famous actress and an 85 year-old photographer who has documented the city’s evolution risk to overpopulate divergent viewpoints but Gee must be credited for sewing these elements into the love story’s timeline with astonishing surety.
One of many artefacts to pass before our eyes is Kemal’s collection of cigarettes which once graced the lips of his beloved. An obsession that borders on fetishism, they figure as a grand, calendar-like tableau of moments, together reflective of an ill-fated relationship but each and every one still tinged with meaning and memory. In its myriad contemplations, the only criticism of Innocence of Memories is its monotonous pacing but in some way that suits a methodical visual essay whose timeless, universal themes could be transposed to anyone, anywhere, at any moment in history.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens