THE KEYS TO MEMORY (LAS LLAVES DE LA MEMORIA) is an engaging and fascinating documentary outlining ideas of how societal history and the language used to convey ancient events contributes to a modern-day sense of identity. Fitting perfectly within the theme for this year’s IberoDocs festival, Jesus Armesto’s film leaves much to ponder even for those from beyond the mountain ranges of Andalusia.
Throughout, we follow the silent Sofia as she engages with students, teachers, historians and others to dig deeper into the roots of her Andalusian identity. A region of Spain with a unique history, spanning centuries and multiple cultures, religions and languages, the manner in which the history of Andalusia is conveyed is both engaging in THE KEYS TO MEMORY but also makes some fascinating points.
Armesto has unearthed a series of fascinating and engaging speakers, talking to them in a talking-heads format for most of the film. The focus is kept squarely on their ideas – shooting them frequently with a shallow depth of field in relevant locations (such as period religious sites, or the classroom where the effects of centuries of distorted pereceptions are laid fully bare).
The idea of history being written by the victors is one often visited in fiction and documentary. What THE KEYS TO MEMORY does differently is to show how lack of a voice, and the discussion framing periods in a society’s history, can erase so many elements that could and should contribute to the identities of others. These are elements that make a group unique, but when their history is ignored or silenced makes them seem out of place.
“[The film examines] elements that make a group unique, but when their history is ignored or silenced makes them seem out of place.
This ranges from fascinating perception of Abd al-Rahman III – a ruler in Al-Andalus during that long period of Muslim rule in the south of the Iberian peninsula – as ‘foreign’ despite being born in Cordoba, to discussion of Andalusian dialect and language (sometimes mocked by other Spaniards) stemming from the combination of Arabic ‘sounds’ combined with Spanish words. Even the concept of the ‘Reconquista’ period, and the effect referring to it as such has, is visited. Both collective and individual identities, and how others perceive them, are all affected in a profound manner.
A point could be made the film perhaps labours its key points at over 90 minutes, but the topic is fascinating and Armesto gives the ideas room to breathe with a light touch and a silent vessel for the audience in Sofia. It should give pause for any nation of people; one to consider their history with a more inquisitive approach, and to evaluate how we speak of our fellow people now will affect future generations’ identities.