This richly detailed portrait of activist Hector Abad Gomez is moving and well-acted, though is sometimes foiled by slow pacing
In recent years, Western audiences have seen the Colombia of the ‘70s and ‘80s, more specifically the city of Medellin, over and over again in shows like Narcos, showing us a country defined almost exclusively by its drug violence and the looming shadow of Pablo Escobar. With leisurely, richly detailed world-building, Memories of My Father offers a redress to that skewed perception, showing a Medellin that, while not without its dangers, is full of love and life, populated by well-meaning people with real visions for their country’s future.
Chief among these hopers and dreamers is Hector Abad Gomez (Javier Camara), a university professor crusading for better hygiene and healthcare for Medellin’s poorer resident, and father to five daughters and one son – also called Hector, whose memoir provides Memories of My Father with its source material. We mostly see Hector and his work through his son’s eyes, and director Fernando Trueba does impressive work in making it clear just how much the younger Hector idolises his dad.
While we start in black and white, with an adult Hector studying in Italy, we soon flash back to a kaleidoscope of colours for his childhood, the thrill and promise of the world expressed through soft lighting and gaudy tones. It is a bit on the nose, but the happiness of the Gomez household emanates so strongly from the screen that you hardly mind. Trueba spends a lot of time simply exploring the house and the neighbourhood, immersing you in the life of the two Hectors until you feel you really know and care for their family.
The downside to this attention to detail, though, is a sometimes glacial pace. Memories of My Father runs at well over two hours, and there are plenty of moments where you’ll find yourself wondering why, the younger Hector’s teenage years in particular containing a lot of moments that feel superfluous as he zips around town misbehaving with his buddies.
Both Nicolas Reyes Cano (Hector as a child) and Juan Pablo Urrego (as a young man) give mostly compelling performances, but that can’t stop these scenes from dragging, and there are some emotionally climactic sequences in which Urrego seems to be a little out of his depth. Camara, on the other hand, never puts a foot wrong as the idealistic patriarch. In the ‘70s sequences, Hector’s profound care for his kids is etched onto his face in every scene he shares with them, whilst the weight of the more politically turbulent ‘80s presses down on him with increasing power, allowing Camara to expertly play some angrier, more despairing notes.
Though Memories of My Father does eventually wear a little thin, its deeply personal account of one family’s involvement in Colombian history is moving and often well-acted, full of fascinating little details that bring the period to vibrant life. If you can commit to its overindulgent runtime, there’s a rewarding film here – part biopic, part political treatise, and part family dramedy, all adding up to something affecting and original.
Memories of My Father is now streaming on Curzon Home Cinema.Where to watch