From Fernando Trueba, the Oscar-winning director of “Belle Époque” comes “Memories of My Father” based on the best-selling novel “Oblivion. A Memoir” by Héctor Abad Faciolince. The film tells the story of Faciolince’s father Héctor Abad Gómez, a family man who devoted his entire life to healthcare and education in Colombia, and probably someone you’ve never heard of. Stories about good people are few and far between, especially ones that aren’t based on a globally well-known figure. Spanish veteran actor Javier Cámara best known for his collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar plays our unsung hero who fought for the rights of everyone, especially the poor. He once wrote, “Only a sinister ambush can silence us” before being assassinated on the streets of Medellín just before the invasion of the cartels.

“Memories” opens at a cinema in Torino, Italy showing “Scarface.” The black and white scene which features actor Pepe Serna as about to be dismembered by a chainsaw while Pacino’s Tony looks on is set in the film’s present day, 1983, as director Fernando Trueba uses the monochrome aesthetic in the reverse manner of most filmmakers, leaving vibrant color to highlight the past, taking us back to 1971 in the form of flashbacks.

Hector (Juan Pablo Urrego) is attending college in Italy and on a date in the opening scene, granted “Scarface” doesn’t seem like the best choice for dinner and a movie but maybe “Terms of Endearment” and “A Christmas Story” were yet to open in Southern Europe. However, the Brian De Palma film clip featuring a Colombian drug dealer gives a presage of a return home as Hector receives a phone call from a former student of his father, Dr. Hector Abad Gomez (Javier Cámara), asking him to attend a tribute ceremony in Medellín as Hector Sr. is being forced to retire by the university for his outspoken views.

Played with warmth by Javier Cámara, we learn the elder Hector was a man who loved his large family which includes four daughters and a son, the role of 12-year-old Hector Jr is played by Nicolás Reyes Cano during the flashback scenes. He’s moved deeply by the loss of his daughter, a doctor can only do so much when battling cancer, and often he would use his children to test out a new vaccine, such as the time he injects young Hector with an experimental typhoid vax.

The flashbacks are reminiscent of “Roma” especially the scenes of everyday family life as when they gather together to listen to the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” played on an acoustic guitar by one of the daughters causing an impromptu sing-along. But the heart of this story is driven by Hector Sr’s fight for human rights and medical care, stating that everyone has a right to air, water, food, shelter, and affection. He was a scientist who didn’t believe in miracles despite his wife’s hard-lined Catholic stance which is reinforced by the family’s nanny (a nun) and his wife’s relative the local archbishop.

The “progressive views” by Dr. Hector are seen as common sense today but in 1983 Medellín, just as cartel violence was slowly becoming a daily occurrence, the good doctor’s stance that politics dictated medicine, not vice versa the way it should be, didn’t sit well with the many in the government as he called out officials for political violence in defense of human rights.

Four decades later many seem to be fighting the same battles Dr.Héctor Abad Gómez fought, the ongoing pandemic is just one prime example.

“Memories of My Father” takes a heartfelt look at a true pioneer and one of Colombia’s foremost human rights activists. Director Fernando Trueba adapts Héctor Abad Faciolince’s memoir with sensitivity, perhaps too much delicacy, with the cinematography by Sergio Iván Castaño making this a pleasurable viewing experience and a fitting tribute to a good man.

(3 stars)

If you missed the recent weekend engagement at the Modern Museum of Fort Worth’s ongoing series Magnolia at the Modern, the film is available on Digital and VOD including iTunes/Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft Xbox, and Vudu.

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