The latest feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Memoria, is a meditative study on memories, existence, and the philosophical tenures of life all through the eyes of one majestic Tilda Swinton and an immersive atmosphere and soundscape.
Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish orchid farmer, visits her sister in Bogotá, Colombia. One day, right before dawn, a loud and reverberating bang wakes her up from her sleep; the sound doesn’t let her rest for days and days. The resounding thump is echoing through her mind, and she is the only one that seems to hear it. So, she starts questioning her identity and makes her way to search for the cause of the cursed sound.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films are extremely slow and musing, with stilted moments decorating the ether of the location as if it was a Roy Andersson picture. In my opinion, the most interesting one is Tropical Malady (2004), where he interlinks fervid feelings with a prey and predator situation. With Memoria, Apichatpong wanders off his native Thailand for the first time and goes off to Colombia. A stroll in a new venture might be a way to change his usual style, but he doesn’t; he remains with the same meditative and slow-paced structure that made his name.
It works as a hypnotic sedative that takes you on a trance of beauty and identity through sounds and statuesque vision. Its atmosphere divides into two segments of normalcy and the essence of the supernatural, like in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). With ambiguity and cloudiness, its setting has the energy to cover the scene with a presence; bad omens, past demons, or self-infection caused by your mind going non-compos mentis. Those moments where you think much isn’t happening are transfixed with anxiety.
The loud bangs transgress during the film as it interrupts the firmament’s silence and repose, creating an unyielding strain to the equivalent of a horror picture. The thumps, as mentioned before, incorporate this feeling that something surrealistic is amidst the Bogotá plains and streets. Not only does it feel strange that it is taking such a turn, but the way it forges its carefully concocted perturbing haze is taking us on a journey that we will feel moved by it by the end.
Viewers unfamiliar with his filmmaking style or who haven’t seen many movies like his might have difficulty buying into what Memoria has to offer. It does test your patience since it has a steady composure. It is hard to go along with it being unknown to how it takes its toll and knowing previous beats. There aren’t any adamant conclusions to what the journey will settle into, although it provides striking imagery that deliberately showcases esoteric tendencies on how existence and sounds, aka memories, fixate with one another. Hence, where the title comes from. There is more to analyze; as you keep rewatching it, you will grasp more minor elements.
Memoria is, at its core, all about the connections and that alluring heft of what bonds people to their respective pasts, good and bad. You see the intricate details that pierce the screen in the moments of stillness like its acupuncture; it alleviates that pain of the empathy and recollections of what makes us human. More so an experience; we, the audience, are tourists basking upon the little minutiae marked upon each frame. We sit back and relax as this composition takes the form of a reverie that deals with solitude and the echoes of remembrance.