Running Time: 136 minutes
Featuring: Tilda Swinton, Elkin Díaz, Jeanne Balibar, Juan Pablo Urrego and Daniel Giménez Cacho
Older Hernán Bedoya: “I remember everything, so I limit what I see.”
Released on Blu-ray and DVD recently was the latest film from the Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, “Memoria” (2021), his first real foray into English language cinema. The themes of his work often involve dreams, nature, sexuality and Western perceptions of Thailand and Asia, his films display a preference for unconventional narrative structures and for working with non-actors. However here in “Memoria” he is working with a major actor in Tilda Swinton who is as you would expect excellent in a role that demands, although as she has proved time and again is up to any challenge. If there is one thing “Memoria” will do it is challenge audiences who have not been exposed to foreign film or to anything outside a Western ideal of film.
“Memoria” is based around one major character in Jessica, a Scottish expatriate to Colombia, she awakens one night to a single loud boom. She appears to be the only one who can hear it. The next day, she goes to visit her sister, Karen, who is ill and in a hospital in Bogotá. Jessica operates a market-flower business in Medellín, and is curious to learn more about an excavation project being carried out in the same hospital where her sister is being treated. Still bothered by the sound, which she hears repeatedly and which prevents her from sleeping, Jessica seeks the help of a young sound engineer named Hernán to recreate the sound. Though unsuccessful at first, the two eventually approximate the sound, and begin a friendly relationship. Right before they are to take a trip together, Jessica looks for Hernán at his sound engineering studio, only to discover that he is not there and no one working there knows who he is. From this point the film becomes a mystery with some sci-fi elements as well, I will not give nay spoilers as this will ruin any outcome.
Rarely have a filmmaker and performer been so completely on the same page as Swinton and Apichatpong are here. She is mesmerizing in how she plays unsettled more than panicked. Some actresses would have leaned into the relative insanity of Jessica’s predicament, but Swinton carries it in a concerned look or a tightened posture. In the final act, as the film becomes more symbolic and less linear, she holds it together for the viewer, keeping us connected to the immediacy of what’s happening to her. “Memoria” is a sensory experience, but it takes a performer like Swinton to amplify Joe’s technique. We’re not just hearing the babbling brook and chirping birds on a soundtrack—we’re hearing them through Jessica’s ears. Swinton’s performance is the anchor to everything else happening within the film, but it is both actor and filmmaker who seem to share a connection to what it wanted and what occurs.