Innocence of Memories (4 stars)

Innocence of Memories

Fascinating documentary essay from Grant Gee and Orhan Pamuk blending fact and fiction

A symbiotic collaboration between British filmmaker Grant Gee and Nobel prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, Innocence of Memories is a beguiling, meditative study of the indelible link between memory and identity, and the transformative power of love.

Taking as its starting point Pamuk’s 2008 novel The Museum of Innocence, the film expands on the original story of Kemal (Mehmet Ergen), a wealthy Turk with an illicit passion for younger shop-girl Füsun and his subsequent obsession with collecting objects that she touched, from clothing to cigarette butts. One of the book’s minor characters, Ayla, has been upgraded to role of primary narrator, with her insights and memories (silkily orated by Pandora Colin) guiding the viewer through the multiple layers of the narrative: Kemal and Füsun’s affair; the real-world museum Pamuk constructed to continue the themes of his book; and the evolution of Istanbul as it morphs from a relic of the Ottoman Empire to a modern metropolis.

These impressions of a changing city are, of course, Pamuk’s own, and he is also present in the film by way of a news interview about his work that plays on television sets in various deserted locales happened upon by Gee’s roving camera. As it glides silently through Istanbul after dark it reveals a city populated by packs of dogs and men who make their living under cover of night – taxi drivers, commuter boat workers, rubbish collectors – some of whom lend the film their voices.

While Gee’s expertly constructed visuals (crumbling alleyways, decrepit buildings, rippling water and gleaming new-builds) show the effects of the slow march of westernisation on the physical fabric of the city, so these interviews combine with Ayla’s narration and passages from the book to reveal the ideological impact. The uneasy gender politics, for example, lends a fascinating subtext to Kemal and Füsun’s love story, and also to Istanbul residents’ changing relationship with their city. The fact that nobody ever speaks directly to camera, and that the city soundscape is kept silent behind the chorus of voices, gives the whole experience a dreamlike intimacy.

Infused with extra resonance in the aftermath of the recent suicide bombing in the city’s historic Sultanahmet Square, Innocence of Memories is a stunning portrait of Istanbul as a place being constantly reshaped by the friction between the traditional and the modern. It’s also a powerful philosophical exploration of the relationship between the objects of our lives and the memories that give them meaning, wherever we call home.

Limited release from Fri 29 Jan.

Innocence of Memories

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • UK
  • 1h 37min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Grant Gee
  • Cast: Pandora Colin, Mehmet Ergen
  • UK release: 29 January 2016

A beguiling meditative study of the indelible link between memory and identity, and the transformative power of love, born of a collaboration between English director Gee and Nobel-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, taking as its starting point Pamuk's 2008 novel The Museum of Innocence.