Memoria is the latest film based on auteur James Franco’s novel Palo Alto Stories and California Childhood. Acting as another exploration into troubled and angst-ridden youth, the film follows Ivan, an introspective teen trying to make sense of his friends, family and the world around him.
Franco’s involvement in independent fare has offered quite a few interesting efforts, but Memoria is certainly one of his best. Emotionally raw and uniquely told, this spiritual sequel to 2014’s Palo Alto hits its audience like a tidal wave.
Like Franco’s literary work, Memoria has a clear sense of place. The grungy streets of Palo Alto make for a welcomed environment for the trouble youth with directors Vladimir de Fontenay and Nina Ljeti breathing life and texture into the milieu.
Both Lteji and Fontenay take a more unique approach to the rather familiar set-up, capturing their story using an interesting framework. Without spoiling what it is, the narrative acts as a series of memoirs in Ivan’s life. Each piece of the pie adds up quite nicely, giving a detailed view of the character while forming a fairly seamless plot. The direction also add their own spice to the formula, with the VHS tape frame rate and moody moments adding texture to each scene.
Bolstering the material to a higher standard is a savvy cast. Disappearing into his character, Sam Dillon delivers a haunting performance as Ivan. Despite little previous experience, Dillon embodies the character’s deepest insecurities and emotional complexities thoughtfully with a performance that feels nothing short of genuine. Supporting players like Thomas Mann, Bella Cohen and James Franco also deliver solid work in supporting roles.
What makes Memoria stand out from the standard coming of age is just how emotionally raw the affair feels. Each aspect of the film builds up nicely to create a sense of pathos that hits its audience with a real sense of weight, with the third act especially taking the narrative down some dour turns. Not only do these moments feel like a natural progression, but are handled with a deft touch and eye for realism. Rarely do coming of age films feel this genuine.
Despite some technical and budgetary limitations, Memoria shines as one of the more effective coming of age films of recent memory. Executed with intelligence and guts, the film leaves a strong impression on audiences that will not quickly be forgotten.
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