The films of Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul are both art installations and films. His most well-known film, the surreal reincarnation drama “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” was released in 2010 as part of a complex art project called “Primitive.”
“Memoria,” a film shot in Colombia featuring Tilda Swinton, is not part of a wider project, but it feels museum-worthy. And Apichatpong agrees: Cinemas are his galleries, and he has stated that this picture will never be released on home video, digitally or otherwise, because it relies on its symphony and a theater’s top-notch sound system.
Apichatpong’s voice is peculiar. His films are well-crafted, one-of-a-kind, disciplined, beautifully composed, and irascibly moving to their beat. The new setting of “Memoria” sets it distinct from his previous work: Colombia.
There’s a scene early on in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s magnificent new drama “Memoria” in which Tilda Swinton’s protagonist is trying to describe a sound she’s been hearing in her head, which has been keeping her awake at night. She tells a technician about it, and he gives her an audio clip that attempts to mimic it.
“No, it’s earthier,” I remarked aloud. Then Tilda followed up with a very identical remark. I’m not claiming to be psychic, but I was very much on board with this picture, and I believe Weerasethakul, also known as “Joe,” would enjoy it.
Joe wants his films to make an emotional connection with the audience, not through the storyline or even character, but rather through experience. He wants to investigate how humans interact with movies and, by extension, life.
His “Memoria” is allegedly never going to be released on DVD; instead, it will be shown in cinemas as part of a traveling roadshow that will move throughout the country for years, one week at a time, beginning this Sunday, December 26th, in New York City.
While I don’t agree with what this entails in terms of very few people having access to great work, there is some sense to this film’s roadshow presentation. It’s all about gaining experience. It’s an adventure for those who are willing to embark on it.
Jessica, played by Tilda Swinton, is a woman visiting her sick sister in Bogota. Because Jessica is from Scotland but now lives in Medellin and is visiting Colombia, there is an immediate sense of international dislocation (this is heightened by the fact that this is Joe’s first film that is mostly in English).
“The sound” amplifies this dislocation. It starts the movie, followed by a shot of Jessica getting out of bed. Was it simply for the crowd or did she hear it as well? She did, and she’s starting to hear it more frequently.
The audience will be enticed to play detective. Does it happen while you’re in a difficult situation? That appears to be the case during a dinner sequence. However, anyone who has watched a Joe movie knows that solutions are unlikely to be forthcoming.
Jessica’s path becomes increasingly perplexing. She interacts with the aforementioned specialist several times to determine the source of the sound, but he does not appear to exist when she returns to see him.
Similarly, she learns at the dinner that someone she thought had died is still alive. It’s as if her entire being has been shifted somewhat. She wanders through the streets of Bogota till she is finally free of the city’s clamor. Maybe she’ll be able to figure out what’s going on here? Most likely not.
Swinton and Joe are one of the few filmmakers and actors that are entirely on the same page. Her ability to play uncomfortable rather than panicked is captivating.
Some actors would have leaned into Jessica’s situation’s relative craziness, but Swinton bears it in a worried expression or a stiffened stance.
She holds it together for the audience in the last act, as the film gets more symbolic and less linear, keeping us connected to the intensity of what’s happening to her. “Memoria” is a sensory experience, but it takes someone like Swinton to bring Joe’s method to the next level.
We’re not just listening to a soundtrack of babbling brooks and singing birds; we’re hearing them via Jessica’s ears. Thousands of words will be written about what “Memoria” is about, but without Swinton to center them, none of the readings will be worth anything.
So, what exactly is “Memoria” all about? That seems to indicate that it could be different for each individual. In other ways, it feels like a film that eschews literal interpretation. As bizarre as it may sound, it’s also a film about relocation with which I had a strong emotional connection.
Is that even possible? How is it that a film about a lady who appears to be slipping out of the world can be so captivating? Joe’s outstanding craftsmanship is largely responsible for this. He manages to be both meticulously considered and organic at the same time.
He doesn’t believe in a lot of footage or editing, instead of focusing a camera on a scenario and watching it unfold as if we were sitting on one side of a room with Jessica and whoever she’s met.
Swinton immerses herself in Apichatpong’s vision and soundscape as Jessica. She emphasizes Apichatpong’s gorgeous form and injects empathy, tortured yet adventurous. She expands the cosmos of “Memoria” into the metaphysical as she encounters another human’s sensory recollections with a simple touch.
It’s a film that, while it may be more difficult for some to see in the coming weeks (or even months or years), I believe will strike a chord with many who feel equally cut off from the rest of the world. We may not have all witnessed the same sound as Jessica, but we’ve all felt the same way. It has a more earthy tone to it.
Have you watched Memoria? if yes then let us know your thoughts in the comments down below!
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