Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Weerasethakul’s foreign-language debut is an out-of-body experience where dreams and memories excavate and reanimate the past, present and future
Ever since being startled by a loud ‘bang’ at daybreak, Jessica is unable to sleep. In Bogotá to visit her sister, she befriends Agnes, an archaeologist studying human remains discovered within a tunnel under construction. Jessica travels to see Agnes at the excavation site. In a small town nearby, she encounters a fish scaler, Hernan. They share memories by the river. As the day comes to a close, Jessica is awakened to a sense of clarity.
I’m unsure if there has been a recent film as personally affecting as Memoria revealed itself to be. A series of hypnotic spaces where dreams and memories excavate and reanimate the past, while the certainty of things in the present become vulnerable to decay and being forgotten.
With sound design so excellent, listening is as important as looking — and every scene is shot beautifully — Memoria becomes a meditation on the senses; it enchants and echoes across states of awareness and as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s patient, silent takes and painterly framing shifts from urban spaces to lush jungle.
Memoria’s showcase of slow cinema helps to centre oneself through the realisation we are a conduit for the world and our experiences and memories are constantly shifting and talking to each other like hyperlinks across the web or trees communicating with each other via mycorrhizal networks.
Time and memory becomes mistrustful to the central character of Jessica, masterfully realised by Tilda Swinton, but also to the construction of the film as a motion picture itself — timelines mix and maybe begin to misremember too, as character, medium and audience begin a loose and fluid dance.
Memoria is a detective story and maybe a myth, where one certain sound — the sonic boom-like bang which becomes the enigma that haunts Jessica — is the beginning but also possibly the ending of the mystery. Sounds carry meaning but how do we as constantly changing individuals in a constantly changing world interpret their meaning? Memoria contemplates this question and many more ideas, including our sense of belonging and debt to the past, all of which certainly warrants and rewards us further with repeated viewings.
A truly sublime experience for the senses, especially if you allow its power and mysteries take over while watching. Memoria will leave you contemplating and asking questions hours after the credits roll — about the film as a construct of cinema but also about yourself as a product of time, place and memory.
Memoria is Thai artist and film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s foreign-language debut and is available to screen in select cinemas and streaming sites. The film won Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021 and was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Weerasethakul is one of the most original voices in contemporary cinema. His previous seven feature films, short films, installations and his recent live performance have won him widespread international recognition and numerous awards, including the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2010 with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives — a personal favourite.