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Maalbeek
Maalbeek

Excavating a city

That might have never existed

– Review by Jonathan Zackor

How does one cope after a traumatic event? When fragments of those memories constantly sneak back up into daily life, will not let you rest, or interrupt both work schedules and happy moments alike? When everything takes you back to the ‘crime scene’ of the mind – would it sometimes be better, creating relief if you could just press the “forget” button, even if that means losing a piece of yourself? Could it bring you peace?

In Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis’ Maalbeek (2020), we follow Sabine, a survivor of the 2016 Brussel terrorist attacks, on the painful search for her lost memories. Suffering from amnesia after the detonation in the metro, she is desperate to find some reconnection to her past self. To bridge the gap caused by her traumatic memory loss.

Because, how do you get over something that you cannot remember? Objectively, you know that it happened. You saw it on the news. You know that you were there. You saw that you were there. There is a video with you in it. It is real. Why does it feel like someone else is sitting in your place?

The filmic hybrid of documentation and animation allows for a visual translation of uncertainty and dissociation, its storytelling cleverly echoing the matter of fragmented memories: blurry contours, missing details, reminiscent of pointillism, barely able to form a coherent image, the undeniable and unfillable gap. Revolving around the strained space between different memories: one being the media images of that day and the other that of survivors such as Sabine, the film paints a captivating and haunting portrayal of a life’s narrative disrupted.