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Thread: MEMORIA (Apichatpong Weerasthakul 2021)

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    MEMORIA (Apichatpong Weerasthakul 2021)



    Traveling in Colombia, a sound in the head leads to explorations of other worlds

    Armond White ("Memoria Recalls Mankind’s Alienation and Hope") says this is the Thai auteur's most accessible film to date, which seems odd - it's still pretty peculiar - but may be true. Mike D'Angelo ("Tilda Swinton hears a strange sound in the magnificently mysterious Memoria") is in awe of it, and of the sacred silence maintained by audience members during the hushed final moments of the film. Various writers have said only Tilda Swinton could have made the lead role work, and indeed her delicately recessive performance is key to how the film holds the viewer. Some have lost patience after an hour or so. for me, it took an hour to lock in, then I was there. And I'm still there, in my head. This is a haunting and wonderful film.

    Yes, this was the most accessible - the most inviting - "Joe" film I've seen: it left me in awe too, and quietly excited that a cinema artist can go so much and so memorably his own way and reach the adulation of Cannes with it. If you care about movies as art you should make your way to see Memoria, properly, in a movie theater.

    And it's claimed that's the only way you'll ever be able see it, though D'Angelo has pointed out this rule has already been broken, since screeners were sent to the press for review. Anyway, on the big screen is how you should see Memoria. Its images are meant to be enveloping, its sound design big, rich, and dazzling.

    Memoria begins with sound, then eventually moves on to wider, otherworldly topics when Jessica (Swinton) connects with a strange individual called Hernán (Elkin Díaz). I've since learned that the sound engineer, Hernán (Juan Pablo Urrego), who sees Jessica earlier and then disappears, is a younger version of this Hernán.

    Jessica is traveling in Colombia. She wakes up very early hearing a very loud thumping sound. She tries to find out what it is. She tells people she lives in Medellín. (I learn, from her, that it's pronounced "MED-AY-JHEEN" and not "MED-AY-YEEN"; and she speaks quite a lot of Spanish in this film, as she spoke a lot of Italian once, in Luca Guadagnino's 2009I Am Love). She seems to have an orchid farm in Medellín, and while in in Bogotà she wants to buy an expensive refrigerator for the orchids that the younger Hernán offers to help her pay for.

    At the same time, or shortly after Jessica hears her first big thump, we hear and see a symphony of coordinated car alarms going off in a courtyard. This succession of ominous events that must be investigated reminded me of Michael Haneke and particularly his 2005 film Caché. Memorable is Jessica's meeting with the handsome young sound engineer (the young Hernán), who tweaks sounds electronically in order to duplicate for her the loud thump she has heard, evidently so she can explain it to others who, of course, don't hear it. (We hear it, and others that follow.) Why and how does she work thus with the young sound engineer? What good will it do?

    More logically, perhaps, she meets with a woman doctor (Constanza Gutierrez), but she isn't much help. She visits a sick friend (Jeanne Balibar) in the hospital; later the friend is out and in a restaurant where Jessica hears the sound repeatedly, then orders, after much hesitation, osso buco.

    Eventually, somewhere, the most arresting sequence of all: Jessica and the older Hernán. Sitting at a rough table outdoors, he is scaling fish, explaining that he has never left the small town where they are because he remembers everything (like Borges' character in his classic short story "Funes el memorioso") so he must keep things simple to avoid gathering too many memories. It also emerges that he does not dream - his kind, he says, do not - and when he sleeps - he lies down on the ground to demonstrate - he dies temporarily, eyes and mouth partway open.

    Jessica may be seeming to start to like her "exploding head syndrome," which disturbed her a lot at first (she tells the doctor she does not sleep). And in bonding with the second, strange, older Hernán, she begins to connect also with other worlds and other levels of consciousness - I guess. I do not understand this film. And as I write about it, I realize how complicated and specific it is and how hard to describe. All I can really say is that it creates a rich and memorably specific world that gathers you in and establishes a place in memory. One can also say that "exploding head syndrome" is a real phenomenon that "Joe" experienced for a period of years, but no longer does; and that this film is the result of careful research in country and the first time the filmmaker has worked outside of his nature Thailand; this is also the result of a long-anticipated collaboration with Tilda Swinton, a co-producer of the film. The "other" world is not my thing. But "Joe" has a unique ability to use movie magic to provide glimpses of that world.

    Memoria, 136 mins., debuted at Cannes, winning the Jury Prize there, and was included in 40 other international film festivals including New York (Oct. 5, 2021) with 13 nominations and four other awards. US theatrical release Dec. 26, 2021 (NYC). Screened for this review at Landmark Shattuck, Berkeley, Apr. 26, 2022. Metacritic rating: 90%.

    I have previously reviewed "Joe's" Syndromes and a Century (2006 NYFF), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010 NYFF), and Cemetery of Splendour (NYFF 2015).

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-27-2022 at 12:49 PM.


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