We review this clever and immensely engaging film…
Detailing a tragic love affair and providing an examination of its long-term effects, this documentary focuses on the real-life museum behind Orhan Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence.
Sexually liberated shop girl Füsun begins an affair with engaged Kemal back in the 1970s in Istanbul amidst political upheaval and uncertainty; from the very beginning of the film a happy ending is not expected. But Füsun never leaves Kemal’s mind for long, and he begins to obsessively detail the affair, collecting everything from dresses and trinkets of sentimental significance, to hundreds and hundreds of cigarette butts. Eventually all of this material becomes the collection of a museum located in her old house. That collection, now touring, can be viewed free of charge at London’s Somerset House, which is lucky for those interested but unable to make a quick trip to its permanent home in Istanbul.
But neither a trip to the museum nor a read of the novel are necessary to enjoy this peculiar little film, painful not only in its intensely observed account of intimacy but also in its intimate approach to film-making itself. Studiedly uncinematic, there is none of the epic sweep we might expect from a story spanning half a century and concerning two people as well as a whole nation. All we are given is voices, mostly that of Ayla, childhood friend of Füsun, along with a significant number of fragments from the novel itself, spoken aloud and often shown on screen too. In this way the film is significantly closer to an adaptation of the novel than a documentary about the museum. In fact, “adaptation” doesn’t even feel like the right word, as the feeling is less that it’s a new work based on the original, and more that it’s the same work in a new medium, the same way we wouldn’t think of an audiobook as an “adaptation” of a novel. In any case the film has the shockingly private feeling of going through another’s things, which is literally what the museum invites its visitors to do.
The documentary’s strong theme is memory, the way it shapes lives and its interconnectedness with objects of all sorts, from the humble cigarette butt to the whole mighty city of Istanbul. Woven into this painfully personal tale is an account of a nation and an entire way of life. Just as the personal and the political intertwine, the film unfolds on many levels. It’s a documentary documenting a museum which documents an affair, and at the same time it documents the novel which documents the museum which documents the affair. And is there a suggestion of absurdity to all of this meticulous documenting? The film raises the possibility that Pamuk’s novel took certain creative liberties with the story of Kemal and Füsun, which is one way of putting it: the novel was released in 2008, and the museum the novel is about didn’t open until 2012. It’s a piece of defictionalisation no less shameless, though certainly more intriguing, than marketing tie-ins such as the red Swingline stapler from Office Space, now available for purchase due to heavy demand. Just as memory shapes destinies, up to and including those of entire cities or nations, so to can stories, stories like that of Füsun and Kemal, immortalised in a little place in Istanbul, the city with which they, no matter in how small a way, are intertwined just as that familiar stranger, Sherlock Holmes, haunts London from his once-non-existent address in Baker Street.
Innocence of Memories arrives in the UK today, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!