Directed by married couple Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Memory Box (Hatira Kutusu) begins on the day before Christmas in Montréal. Thirteen-year-old Alex Sanders (Paloma Vauthier) and her grandmother Téta (Clémence Sabbagh) are cooking in preparation for a happy Christmas Eve celebration as soon as Alex’s mother, Maia (Rim Turki), comes home from work.
Before she does, something odd happens. A delivery man brings them a large box. When Téta sees the sender’s name and address, she refuses to accept the box. But Alex accepts it anyway. Téta unsuccessfully tries to hide the box.
Although her mother and grandmother order her not to touch the box, Alex can’t resist. What she finds are notebooks, photographs and cassette tapes that Maia sent to her best friend, Liza, who had moved with her family to Paris when they were teenagers. Now, almost thirty years later, Liza has died in a car accident, and her parents have sent this box of memories back to adult Maia. Maia’s letters from the early 1980s describe her life in great detail, both her romances and the backdrop of warfare. These accounts are portrayed as flashbacks with Manal Issa playing the young Maia.
For Alex, this is a stunning discovery of a part of her mother’s life that she has never revealed to Alex.
Alex learns that Maia’s brother was shot to death during the complicated Lebanese Civil War. Her father, Téta’s husband, was a school principal who, despite being threatened, refused to leave Beirut and was also murdered.
As surprising as this all is for Alex, she eventually learns about an even bigger family secret.
If Memory Box seems unusually realistic for a fiction film, it’s because it was inspired by Hadjithomas’ real correspondence with a friend who left Lebanon for France in the 1980s and which were sent back to her twenty-five years later.