The web of fabrications woven by a bourgeois Argentinean family fearful of reality is the focus of “Made Up Memories,” an attractively understated, intriguing but unremittingly sober drama. As airless as the shadowy, rambling townhouse in which it’s wholly set, fastidiously crafted pic’s exploration of the impact of an absent son on his family keeps a tight grip on the situation’s emotional truth, but a little dramatic zip would have eased the intermittent longueurs. A strong calling card for tyro helmer Diego Sabanes, pic has played fests, with more likely to follow.
Wannabe musician Pablo (Walter Quiroz) leaves the home of his extended family in 1950s Buenos Aires in search of fame and fortune in Paris. On receiving no news from him, his brother Jorge (Claudio Tolcachir) decides to invent a successful Parisian life for Pablo for the benefit of their bedridden mother (Marilu Marini). In Julio Cortazar’s original story, it is quickly established that Pablo is in fact dead, but here the issue remains open.
The deceit involves the writing and sending of letters from Pablo; the sending of gifts, which later puts a strain on family finances; and even, at one crucial point, the placing of a phone call. The humor of the situation, like everything else about the pic, is contained, and takes on shades of melancholy over the last 30 minutes when the underlying theme — that the family members have themselves come to depend on their comforting fiction — comes to the surface.
Jorge runs the family hat-making business, which has fallen on hard times (another fact that has to be hidden from the mother), and eventually strikes up a tentative relationship with Pablo’s former g.f. Patricia (Veronica). Brief flashbacks open up some unpleasant family history, largely deriving from the immoral behavior of Pablo and Jorge’s father (Victor Laplace), over which the family is still in denial. Ultimately, though, their lives are rather dull, and some of that dullness spills over into the script itself.
The extensive cast does fine ensemble work, successfully communicating the caged-animal dynamic of people forced to spend too much time together and trying to make the best of it. Marini stands out as the tyrannical matriarch; gentle in tone but absolutely unbending in will, she is the source of most of the family’s unhappiness. Marini also plays interestingly with the idea that the mother is aware of the game they’re playing.
The house itself is full of dark, rich woods from which visuals take most of their coloring, and heightens the sense of a family that seems to be living in absolute, unhealthy isolation from the rest of the world. Score is delicate and often jazz-inflected.