Belgian darling Annie Cordy steals the show in Memories, an endearing family affair in which she plays Madeleine, a newly widowed grandmother who finally takes her life into her own hands. With the help of her beloved and devoted grandson Romain, Madeline returns to the shores of Normandy, where she was born and raised and from which she had to flee with her family at the height of World War II.
When Madeleine’s husband dies, her three sons put her into a nursing home believing her to be unfit to live alone. It’s from this nursing home, where her only visitor is Romain, that Madeline escapes suddenly one day, throwing the entire family into a panic until Romain receives a cheery postcard from a train station and follows his grandmother to Normandy. There, she tells him about her life as a child, including the school she attended and the playground she loved and never saw again until then.
Madeleine’s escaping to Normandy on her own is her way of showing everyone that she is capable. She admits to Romain that she’s always wanted to do it and even though she is spunky and full of sass and humour, she recognizes that she is not a young woman anymore and so gladly accepts Romain’s assistance where she needs it.
Constantly sweet and devoted to his grandmother, Romain is the only male in the family who sees Madeleine as more than just an elderly woman. He sees her as a complete human being with a life that preceded him, something Madeleine’s three sons are unable to do. To Madeleine’s sons, including Romain’s father, she has always been their mother and their father’s wife. Though there is no question about how much they love and respect their mother, they are perfect representations of a society that raises men to always believe that it is their job to take care of a woman. Romain is the only one who trusts his grandmother and though he’s worried when she disappears, he and his mother (who seems to be a second Madeleine, also at risk of being glossed over as nothing more than a wife and mother by her husband) are the only ones who trust that Madeleine is okay.
Contrasted with Romain’s exceptional understanding that women are no different than men is his roommate Kamil, a misogynistic self-proclaimed womanizer who aggressively hits on women and then is insulted when they reject him. He freely throws around insults directed at women under his breath, showing an all-too familiar side effect of being raised in a patriarchal society that teaches men that women are made for their consumption. Kamil is seen as comic relief, but it could also be argued that he is a living fable of how not to act. His brash insensitivity and old-fashioned narrow-minded view on love and gender show us just how ridiculous that branch of thought is in this day and age.
Memories has that slightly predictable bittersweet ending, but the joyful epiphanies that Romain’s entire family is gifted with will still have you walking out of the theatre smiling. Full of lovely humour and a succinct, yet expansive view into the jumbled vines of family dramas, Memories is just really reminding us that we’ve only one life to live and so we ought to live it the way that’s right for us.