Berlin’s Panorama Audience Award winner is a heartfelt exploration of female sexuality in older age

Memories Of A Burning Body

Source: Berlinale

‘Memories Of A Burning Body’

Dir/scr: Antonella Sudasassi Furniss. Costa Rica/Spain. 2024. 90mins

Antonella Sudasassi Furniss describes her second feature Memories Of A Burning Body as “the conversations I never had with my grandmothers”. An elegantly-structured tale distills the experiences of three older women into a single life that speaks for a generation. The stifling taboos around female sexuality, love and desire are recalled with admirable candour in a film that poignantly balances insight, humour and heartfelt emotion. Winning the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlinale testifies to the appeal of a film that will attract festival invitations and interest from arthouse distributors and streamers. 

Home truths that will be recognised the world over

Furniss was Goya nominated for her feature debut The Awakening Of Ants (2019), a quietly observed tale of family life and thwarted ambition. Memories is constructed from the experiences of Ana, Patricia and Mayela, three women over the age of 65. Opting for an anonymity that allows them to speak freely in audio interviews, they share their life stories and reflections. The chorus of voices is good company, and the women have a racy turn of phrase. One of them notes that sex with an older man now would be “like putting a marshmallow in a piggy bank.” Their words provide the soundtrack of the film but they are represented on screen by the composite figure of The Woman played by Sol Carballo, who we first see emerging from hair and make-up to face the camera for the first take of the production.

The Woman is 71 years-old, grey-haired and lonely, spending a good deal of time pottering around her apartment. The ping of a phone message occasionally interrupts the silence. Production designer Amparo Baez Infante ensures that the apartment is full of history. Walls are festooned with family photos, old lamps provide illumination, cherished mementoes and boxes of souvenirs are a constant invitation to stroll down memory lane.

As we hear the stories of these lives, objects and events mentioned in passing enter the screen. Chickens wander into shot. The Woman shares the screen with the past as she is surrounded by the family that once held her close, the friends of her youth, the censorious nuns of her school years and a younger version of herself played by Paulina Bernini. There is a great deal of charm in this approach. A contemporary audience could be lulled into assuming there is a nostalgic glow to these memories. How quaint that girls were once so naive, protected and ill-informed that they knew nothing of periods, masturbation, orgasms or desire.

The real cost of that innocence is conveyed as the memories grow harsher and we hear tales of domestic violence, a marriage that becomes like a prison and the crippling expectations that a woman’s future inevitably entailed marriage, motherhood and doing her utmost to become a domestic goddess. Furniss ensures that sting is felt as the film progresses through the stages of a life that has known suffering but also the possibility of change. The Woman may be shaped by the past but she never becomes a victim of it, and the film matures into a tribute to her resilience and refusal to give up on life.

Sol Carballo is perfectly cast as the lead character. She exudes a serenity and wisdom that make her the calm centre of the story. Her expressive features convey the emotions that are spoken by others although her occasional dialogue is performed in perfect harmony with the words we hear on the soundtrack. We accept her as a woman of experience and a survivor. The twinkle in her eye also suggests she is a woman with secrets, an impression confirmed by revelations that come late in the film.

Memories Of A Burning Body may be a little too linear and tidy at times, but it conveys some home truths that will be recognised the world over.

Production companies: Substance Films, Playlab Films

International sales: Bendita Film Sales,

Producer: Antonella Sudasassi Furniss

Cinematography: Andres Campos Sanchez

Production design: Amparo Baeza Infante

Editing: Bernat Aragones

Music: Juano Damiani

Main cast: Sol Carballo, Paulina Bernini, Julianna Filloy