Watching his enjoyable film Joy Division about the pop band back in 2008, I would never have known Brighton-based Grant Gee would become one of the most eclectic and creative film makers in Britain.
But Innocence of Memories***** is a truly remarkable piece of work, a somnambulistic dream of a film, that combines the act of remembering with the act of reading, imagining and wandering.
Gee’s film is based on Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel The Museum of Innocence, a unique work in its own right because the fictional story it tells – of the love affair between aristocratic Kemal and the beautiful shop girl Fusun – is also told through artefacts in a real museum now open in Istanbul, where cabinets of trinkets and photos and household objects are arrayed like clues and scattered memories. Imagine, say, if Dickens had filled the real Bleak House with objects featured his novel, a bunch of keys, say, and piles of legal papers, quills…
It’s an amazing project all round and Gee combines this with perambulations around Istanbul with his steadicam, musing about the stray dogs, and the neighbourhoods and the people who work its streets, now and in the past, from a street photographer, to a refuse collector, an old actress, a ferry man and a taxi driver. It’s a criss-cross of narratives, like the busy intersections of streets we see on the screen and on many maps which mark out the fictional story.
Pamuk, too, gives his own thoughts, how little museums around Europe intrigued him. For example, visiting Paris on a literary tour to promote a novel, he was struck by how much more personal a portrait of the city one got from the Edith Piaf museum compared to, say, the Louvre.
The film is about time and the city, about layers of fiction and imagination. It questions the moments that sear in the memory, when people interact with objects: the time you buy a pair of shoes, heard a song, smoked a cigarette. The museum itself holds the ‘refuse of an affair’ – combs, cigarette butts, a sock – while the city lies outside ever-changing, a museum for our memories if you live there long enough but also a place that erases memory, every time a tree is cut down, or a favourite view blocked by a new building.
This is a wonderful film, into which I just melted, like dipping into the inky waters of the Bosphorous which flows through it, a metaphor for narrative and time. I didn’t know Pamuk’s novel before but feel like I’ve now read it and have experienced possible the best audio book ever.
I can’t recall a film like Innocence of Memories, so tactile and so gripping, so many meta-textual layers yet so clear in letting the story of the novel still carry its emotional whack (the voice over narrations are superbly judged by Pandora Colin and Mehmet Ergen).
There’s a small slice of the Museum of Innocence now come to London’s Somerset House which I urge you to visit after seeing the film. It is a beautiful, melancholy work yet suffused with such detail and thoughtfulness you will find yourself lost in reverie. Which is just how it should be in the movies.
To listen to my podcast with film maker Grant Gee click here.