Memory is slippery. Often, what we believe we remember and the way events actually unfolded are very different. It's what makes memoir, as a literary and cinematic device, so interesting.
Memoir doesn't need to be strictly autobiographical. In fact, it seems to be more effective when it's not. When talking in term of movies, how a situation or event feels retrospectively, how the odd inaccuracies and exaggerations that the filter of time often inserts color the narrative, usually make for a far more compelling film.
Below is a list of a few fine memoir movies. They might not be accurate but they are true in the eyes of the filmmakers who made them:
AMARCORD (1973): Federico Fellini's memoir of growing up in a small Italian village is colored by his memory of the time and the distinctive style that the Italian director worked in. While it's possible that his childhood was populated by the odd, engaging characters found in so many of his films - it would certainly explain a lot - this film seems more like a coming-of-age dream than an actual document of his life.
HOPE AND GLORY (1987): Often the most effective memoirs are the ones that distill large events through small eyes. Director John Boorman's look at the London Blitz through his own experiences as a 9-year-old boy in World War II tells a very different sort of war story.
ALL THAT JAZZ (1979): Daring and disturbing, this musical memoir of a life of sin and song translates director Bob Fosse's tumultuous life into a series of dramatic vignettes and song-and-dance numbers. Among the oddest and most effective: a sequence recalling his near-fatal heart attack.
ALMOST FAMOUS (2000): Writer/director Cameron Crowe's semi-factual remembrance of his years as a (very) young writer with Rolling Stone magazine, Almost Famous is as much about every fan committed to his or her rock favorites as it is Cameron Crowe. An endearing film.
AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1988): Director Louis Malle's memoir of coming of age in a French boarding school, Les Enfants eschews standard screen formula, reducing its story to small vignettes and stolen moments. It's a device that makes an inevitable event much more powerful. This film ends up so emotional it's hard to discern whether it's memoir or personal exorcism.
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