Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul delivers one of the most calming and unsettlingly unique films of 2021 with his latest feature Memoria. Written by the director, who’s known for his long lingering shots and striking soundscapes, Memoria is a film that sticks to Weerasethakul’s beloved cinematic brand and artistic style. Full of mystic undertones intertwined with slow-paced realism, here is a fantasy movie that plays with your auditory senses and showcases one of Tilda’s Swinton’s most complex acting performances yet.
Scottish florist Jessica (Swinton) lives in the Colombian city Medellin and travels to Bogotá after her sister Karen (Agnes Brekke) mysteriously falls ill. One night while travelling in Colombia, Jessica hears a loud booming sound. After hearing the sound, she sets out to discover this sound again as she finds herself drawn to the round and robust noise. In the search for the sound, Jessica begins a slow and personal journey to piece together the noise’s origin, collecting hints and contemplating all possible explanations, such as Shamans in the Amazon or if she is actually suffering from hallucinations – however, nothing seems to fit.
Memoria isn’t a typical narrative. It isn’t concerned with answering questions but instead focuses on building up feelings of unease, subtle obsession, and a certain mythos that you can never quite put your finger on. There is a certain ghostly quality to the film, like Weerasethakul’s previous work, such as Cemetery of Splendour, and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. By its end, you will be questioning what is reality.
Tilda Swinton is truly the shining light in this subtle film, with her performance demanding you pay attention to every quiet moment on screen. As Jessica, a woman trying to piece together her new sensory anomaly and connect with the people around her, she feels authentic, real, and vulnerable in her portrayal. Seeing Jessica’s journey of discovery and strange growing fondness for her new audible reality is the central crux of the film’s narrative and is executed perfectly by Swinton’s talent. What further complements Swinton’s detailed characterisation of Jessica is the film’s soundscape.
If you do decide to watch Memoria, a quality cinematic sound system is a must, as what makes the film memorable is its unforgettable and overwhelming sound work. It is easy to get swept away by the noises of Colombia, of nature’s voices that surround Jessica as she listens to trickling streams or winds rushing through her windows. Similarly, it is hard not to jump or shiver every time we hear the loud banging noise that has cursed the character too.
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Weerasethakul expertly manipulates our auditory senses to make us feel fear, peace, and anxiety as we watch his feature. However, it sometimes feels like the focus on sound in Memoria made the filmmaker sacrifice his attention from the visuals – which you know is pretty important for a film, right?
To say that Memoria is slow-paced is an understatement. Although some scenes in the movie feel intentionally sluggish – highlighting the stillness of the story and contrasting with the distinctive soundscape – for the most part, the frequent lengthy shoots are, dare I say, dull? This laborious feeling is emphasised by boring camera work that never lives up to the film’s mysterious story or Swinton’s performance.
Frequently we see stationary shots being held for at least a minute at times with nothing else sensorily to focus on – resulting in any emotion or atmosphere being killed off. There are also constant frames with uninspired compositions which are chosen for these annoyingly long moments that work only to pollute this otherwise beautiful flick.
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It’s a shame as Memoria’s pacing issues and cinematography decisions lessen the impact of an overall moving and unique film. While not perfect and dragging in places (more so than a normal slow burn Weerasethakul movie), Memoria is a deeply affecting drama movie that will stick in your mind for days to come. Its subtle take on fantasy, exploration of sound, and stunning acting performances make Memoria feel special and puts itself forward as a standout international feature for 2021.
Memoria is set to hit theatres on December 26 for US viewers and on January 14, 2022, across the UK.
Tilda Swinton shines in this intriguing but incredibly slow-paced feature that will stick in your mind for days on end.