Starring: Elena Anaya, Benjamín Vicuña, Néstor Cantillana
Director: Matías Bize
Running Time: 87 mins
The Memory Of Water (La memoria del agua) is a Chilean film about a married couple who struggle to cope in the aftermath of their son’s death, as they set about dealing with grief in vastly different ways.
With an intimate and earnest portrayal of the nature of grief, The Memory Of Water isn’t the easiest film you’ll ever watch, but it has some stunning and thought-provoking emotional depth as it tackles a difficult subject head on. With two excellent lead performances from Elena Anaya and Benjamín Vicuña, there is palpable drama right the way through here, although an often underwhelming screenplay unfortunately means it never proves quite the devastating tearjerker it intends to be.
For such a short film, however, there really is quite a lot to pick out here, with the most fascinating element being that key theme on how grief can affect different people in such incredibly different ways. It’s an idea that most people will certainly be aware of, and that many have experienced themselves, but The Memory Of Water puts the raw emotion of that most difficult of periods in one’s life on display in enthralling fashion.
With a husband and wife reeling from the accidental death of their young son, the gravity of the situation sets in to the extent that their relationship can no longer continue. While the husband finds himself wanting to go on as normal, keeping the memory of their son alive while retaining his marriage, the wife becomes physically unable to go on in the same situation, moving away to find a way to restart her life after such a traumatic event.
That difference in reaction is what the film is all about, and it really hits those beats well at some stunningly emotional moments throughout. Rather than the considerably more trivial nature of a rocky relationship, the division and open wounds that the death of the couple’s son creates gives such impetus to the wife to end their relationship, even though her personal affection towards her husband hasn’t changed.
From there, the way the two characters cope with the fallout of both their son’s death and the end of their relationship is fascinating, with the two leads in Elena Anaya and Benjamín Vicuña brilliantly portraying the deep inner turmoil as their characters desperately try to recover something from their lives following this immense trauma.
The Memory Of Water, thankfully, isn’t a film that attempts to craft strong emotion by simple melodrama, and as such it’s a very patient and quiet film throughout, with minimal dialogue interspersed by long periods of quiet. In that, the performances have to be of the highest order to really hit the emotion home, and I will that both Anaya and Vicuña carry that off very well, with a very genuine and convincing portrayal that relies heavily on simple yet vital facial expressions and movements, rather than the grand theatrics that many lesser films would try to use.
Unfortunately, where the film falls down in this regard comes in the form of its screenplay. While the split between genuinely heartbreaking dialogue scenes and quieter periods allows for the film’s emotion to hit home, there’s little in the way of real character or story development in those longer quiet periods, something that eventually does have an impact on the degree of emotion you feel towards the finale.
There are without a doubt a couple of really striking and moving scenes in this film, but they represent rather shallow peaks in what is occasionally a screenplay with rather stagnant emotional development. While the two leads show the emotional turmoil and devastating ups and downs their characters come across, the story’s key ideas don’t mirror that, instead following a rather more basic trajectory that focuses a lot more simply on the road to recovery.
With the exception of those few moments of really strong drama, The Memory Of Water never really hits the level of the genuinely devastating tearjerker that it aims to be. Its best scenes certainly show the potential for that, but the lack of real emotional turmoil on a consistent basis is what ultimately undoes the film in the end, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4 overall.