In director Júlia Murat's debut feature film Found Memories, an old woman named Madalena arises before dawn to bake bread, which she delivers to the general store of a seemingly abandoned town in Brazil's lush Paraiba Valley. She genially bickers with the proprietor, then the two sip coffee on a storefront bench. They join a dozen other elderly residents for a church service and communal meal, at which point Madalena returns home to write a letter to her dead husband. Tomorrow will be exactly the same as today in this melancholic place where the inhabitants have "forgotten" how to die.
Routine existence is interrupted by the arrival of Rita, a young backpacking photographer who sets up residence and a darkroom in Madalena's home. While her relationship with the townspeople begins as mutually standoffish, a guarded acceptance develops and she begins making photo portraits and learns the art of bread-making from Madalena. This occurs one hour into Found Memories and is signaled by a shift in visual style by cinematographer Lucio Bonelli, who has also shot such memorable Argentine films as Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool and Ana Katz' A Stray Girlfriend. The rigidly symmetrical wide-screen compositions of the film's first hour become slightly askew, and the camera, heretofore stationary, dares to move. Non-ambient music also appears for the first time.
Rita professes that she was "born in the wrong time" and indeed her feet are planted in different eras. Her photo equipment contains a gizmo-laden digital camera as well as several antiquated pinhole cameras. She's seen wistfully listening to a gramophone as well as rocking out to Franz Ferdinand through her headphones. Following Madalena's death, it's suggested that she remain in the town because "there's no one else here to make bread." That's when Found Memories surpasses being a gorgeously photographed, contemplative meditation on memory, mortality and the passage of time and also becomes perhaps the world's artiest Twilight Zone episode. (One IMBb commentator called the film Groundhog Day meets Gabriel Garcia Márquez). While some might find the film's aesthetics a bit precious, it will surely hit a number of sweet spots for most art-film lovers.
Found Memories had its Bay Area premiere at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival this spring and opens for a one-week run at the SF Film Society Cinema on Friday, June 22.