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By David Finkelstein | February 27, 2007

“Reveries from Cistae memoria” is a meditation on the flawed process of memory. The memories in question are of the filmmaker’s grandparents: grandma’s apple pie, their sheep farm, and a treehouse that may or may not have been built. Sections of the film are introduced by titles in Latin, as if each section presents a different species of memory. Those of you who, like me, are a little rusty in their Latin, won’t get much specific information from these titles, except for providing the general feeling that, in this film, the process of memory itself is being subjected to quasi-scientific scrutiny. (Perhaps the title “Cistae Memoria” could be translated as “memory chest?”)

The film itself is a fluid, beautifully rendered collage of animated antique boxes, which open up to show scenes of long past domesticity. Much of the imagery centers on a mysterious machine in which a frayed red thread is wound and unwound into a box. This thread, vaguely reminiscent of early technological attempts to record events, such as the Edison cylinder recorder, seems to be a symbol for the frayed and imperfect process of memory itself. Josh Gumilea’s haunting, effective sound score combines whispery voices which read fragments of old letters with minimalist music and the sounds of antique machinery.

Hastings’ visual style, somewhat reminiscent of Peter Greenaway’s in “The Pillow Book” as well as of the surrealist boxes of Joseph Cornell, shows an exquisite attention to detail, and a beautiful feeling for composition, color, form, and timing. The overall effect of this lovingly assembled collage of fragments from a vanished past is similar to what one might feel, discovering a treasure trove of old letters, photos, and objects which belong to another era: a desire to connect with the past, a frustration with the limits imposed by the imperfect fragments which survive, and an overall distrust of the flawed mechanisms of memory itself.

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