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directed by Armando Luis Alvarez

An engram is a hypothetical concept representing the actual location in the brain where memories are stored. It is a physical representation of a memory. This is one of the terms in neuropsychology, alongside the classical conditioning theory, that Joe explains to his best friend Ralph, in order to convince him to join a project in which they would build a device which would allow them to play around with memories.

The premises seem to draw a parallel between technology and art, and succeed in attracting interest, but unfortunately, neither of these trains of thought are continued or aptly explored. The overwhelming majority of the plot unfolds as Joe ventures on his own through Europe, in search of his lost girlfriend. He is obsessive about Sam, mentioning her name and his plight to everyone he meets, but fails to listen and see. He is not charmed by the beauty of the places he encounters, nor does he feel compelled to reciprocate the kindness shown to him by the locals. From its inception, the film proposes an exploration of the human subconscious, of memories, depression, love and friendship, but ultimately these promising foundations are not built upon. At most times, ‘Engrams’ fails to live up to its name and is simply a road trip film in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, ranging from having your luggage stolen to the high probability of finding helpful, friendly and open-minded people of all ages, everywhere.

The filming locations and sights are very tastefully chosen, and constitute a synthesis of European culture, and similarity through differences. There’s a certain universality in its symbolism: both a blonde-haired Polish girl and a dark-haired Macedonian girl understand Joe better than he understands his own situation, and advise him to let go of the past and create a present to live in. One adventurous, the other romantic, they encompass the multiple facets of Sam’s personality (and hair colours), and the subconscious realization of these factors later lead Joe to make his decision. Does he still prefer suicide over a false, empty life, or is he prepared to do what it takes to start turning nothingness into something substantial?

While it does hold some very good ideas, ‘Engrams’ is at times too ambiguous, and at other times too simple and straightforward for a cohesive balance to be achieved. The acting is not the most convincing, an outcome definitely not helped by a number of cheesy lines. Visually, it looks great, but camerawork and editing could be much improved. However, since this is the director’s first film, he does a more than decent job with it and shows a lot of promise for future projects.

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