Memories of My Father

It is 1983 in Turin, Italy and Héctor (Nicolás Reyes Cano as a boy, Juan Pablo Urrego ("Memoria" as adult) returns home after a date to see “Scarface” with his girlfriend Barbara (Laura Rodriguez) to a message on his answering machine.  It is Sylvia, a student of his father’s at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Antioquia back home in Medellín, inviting him to a ceremony honoring his dad on his retirement.  Héctor’s journey home will be his last chance to experience “Memories of My Father.”

Laura's Review: B

Director Fernando Trueba ("Belle Epoque," Chico & Rita") and his screenwriter brother David adapt Héctor Abad Faciolince's ‘Oblivion. A Memoir,’ in three distinct tones given three distinct looks by cinematographer Sergio Iván Castaño.  The 1983 ‘present day’ is presented in black and white and, in addition to introducing the film, provides its last act, but it is the burnished gold memories beginning in 1971 that give the film its heart and are the most pleasurable aspect of the film.

We first meet Héctor Abad Gómez’s (Javier Cámara, "Talk to Her") at that 1983 ceremony, comically peering back at his son, who has just arrived, through a paper tube.  Castaño uses a round mask to transition back in time, where the young Héctor, known then as QuinQuin, peers at the colorful images of his mother Cecilia (Patricia Tamayo) trying to corral the chaos of a household that includes him, his father, five sisters, Tata (Maria de las Marcedes Hernandez), Teresa the housekeeper and Aunt Josefa (Luz Myriam Guarin), the nun who shares QuinQuin and Sol’s bedroom,

Dad is working with colleague Dr. Richard Saunders (director Whit Stillman) in his study when children begin to stream in asking for money and when the doctor learns their mother is not home, he has no qualms directing them to his wallet.  But the indulgent dad brooks no transgressions against others and twice we will see him marching his only son to apologize for his misdeeds.  We’ll also see he was a forerunner in trying to stem the spread of disease with vigorous hand washing, instructing QuinQuin to continue scrubbing until he’s finished singing a song, a familiar scene from the era of COVID.  Lessons in morality and compassion continue when QuinQuin accompanies his dad on hospital rounds where young children suffer from typhoid and malnutrition.  

QuinQuin and Sol (Luciana Echeverry as a child, Camila Zarata as an adult) are still youngsters, but their sisters - Mariluz (Maria Teresa Barreto), Clara (Laura Londoño), Vicky (Elizabeth Minotta) and Marta (Kami Zea) are all teenaged and beyond.  The family is a boisterous one, all talking at once unless listening to Marta sing ‘Ruby Tuesday’ while playing guitar and we can feel the strong, loving bond among them.  But two things will rock the family to its foundations.  The doctor’s open criticism of his government’s failures in health care and public hygiene in his newspaper columns will brand him a radical, a Marxist and a Communist, the mounting smears costing him his position at University.  Then, when he is unable to save his daughter Clara from cancer, the doctor throws himself more fully into his activism.

Trueba pays tribute to Clara’s passing with a montage set to ‘Ruby Tuesday,’ Castaño relinquishing the burnished glow for more realistic color moving forward.  Jumping back to 1983 and black and white will see the adult Héctor involved in a scandalous incident which briefly causes a rift with his dad.  But that year will also mark his father’s public assassination in the street, and while we share the family’s overwhelming grief, Trueba gives over too much of the film’s running time to it, dragging down what had been a joyful celebration of the man’s life.  His brother’s script favors family matters over the political, leaving the Columbian political backdrop fuzzy for U.S. viewers.

Javier Cámara is exceptional here, depicting the hub of this family, a truly good man and national hero with warmth and mischievous humor.  Each member of the female household is distinct yet also a singular feminine force.  Familial warmth extends to Gilma (Aida Morales), the doctor’s lifelong secretary.  Zbigniew Preisner’s violin and piano score sweetly embraces home life before mutating into something more somber.

Robin's Review: B

Hector (Juan Pablo Urrego) gets word from his sister that his father (Javier Camara) is to be honored for his service to his university and his country. This brings on the remembrances of growing up as the youngest child, and only boy, in his wildly dynamic and noisy family in “Memories of My Father.”

If you are looking for a period movie with powerful political tones and one about a man’s love for his family, then helmer Fernando Treuba’s Colombian-locale tome should fit the bill. Sibling David Treuba adapts Hector Abad Faciolince autobiographical novel about his father, Hector Abad Gomez, a prominent physician, university professor and human rights activist murdered by opposition terrorists during the turbulent times of the 1970s and 80s.

In this true story, the assassination, while prominent to the film’s climax is actually secondary to the core store of family, love and enlightenment. The love that dad feels for his large, mostly feminine family is palpable and key in forming his moral courage that will come into play.

The family story is tempered with a history lesson, a volatile one, of Colombia during the unsettled time for the country. The turbulence is personified by Hector the Elder as he pushes forward controversial healthcare, like public vaccination and feeding the hungry, causing him the be branded, by his opponents at various times, as a Marxist, a Communist and a Fascist. This puts a target on the good doctor’s back in a country rampant in murder and assassination.

While the political side of “Memories,,,” is boldly told, it is the story of family and love that stays with me.

Cohen Media released "Memories of My Father" in select theaters on 11/18/22, expanding in subsequent weeks.  Click here for play dates.