Memoria, adapted from a James Franco short story, tells about a lonely teenage boy, Ivan (Dillon) who is teased and bullied at school, although he does have a group of about six friends he runs with. He is socially awkward and doesn’t have much ambition, even with the encouragement of his English teacher, Mr. Wyckoff (Franco). Ivan’s home life is troubled, and he sorely misses his dad who left the family to return to Russia. His mother is married to a man who has no idea how to connect with Ivan and says and does all the wrong things.
Partly autobiographical, the story follows this group of friends who indulge in drugs, sex, smoking, and alcohol without giving it much thought. Even though they have sense enough to designate a driver for a party night, the driver has no such commitment, which creates a major problem later on.
At the Q&A after the screening of Memoria at the Austin Film Festival, Franco acknowledged that his short story is based on someone he actually knew in high school who was getting into trouble for more serious infractions than the rest of the crowd. It was only much later that Franco heard about what happened to him, and was moved to write the short story.
One of the co-directors, Nina Ljeti, also went to high school with Franco and knew the boy in question. The other director, Vladimir de Fortenay, and Ljeti made significant changes in the Franco story, with his endorsement. Under their direction, the film has several strong points, particularly the opening scenes with a bridge and a figure looking out over it as if pondering whether to jump. The scene immediately switches to a swimmer, but one in swimming trunks, leaving it ambiguous as to whether the person jumped or not. A drawback of the film in my opinion is that we learn almost nothing about Ivan’s mother, someone who must have played a role in his current psychological state.
Sam Dillon and the actor playing the younger Ivan (Kaden Ecklund) interpret the role well, showing a taciturn, somewhat sulky, boy who will do the polite thing if prodded, but is basically nonaggressive, except for his military fantasies in the privacy of his bedroom. The kid is obsessed with a father he may never see again. He was young enough when the father left that later he has to wonder if his memories of him are actually true or are made up out of his longings.
I believe Memoria reflects accurately the teenage scene and how adolescents of today cope with the world. It is interesting, but does not offer much in terms of insight or a really fleshed out picture of Ivan’s world.
A fairly typical picture of contemporary teenage life.