4 out of 5 stars
Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a Thai director whose films often defy normality, and bring together past and present, real and unreal, mystic and sceptic, and the physical and spiritual. His 2014 film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won the 2014 Cannes Palme d’Or. Which aided his rising profile and led to this, his first English language film and first to not be made in Thailand with Thai actors. Memoria instead was set in Colombia and shifted between English and Spanish, leading it to be Colombia’s entry this year for Best International Feature at the Oscars.
The film itself stars Tilda Swinton, an actress that has a career that ranges from blockbuster hits like The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Doctor Strange and Avengers: Endgame to her numerous collaborations with international directors like Luca Guadagnino, Pedro Almodóvar, and Bong Joon-ho. She is an immensely talented actress who can seemingly fit in any genre, language or character. Here she plays a British florist working in Colombia, where her sister and brother-in-law also live. One night she hears a noise, and that is the rest of the plot. Her character, Jessica, tries to determine what this noise is and define its origins.
Interestingly, the answer is wrapped up in mysticism and transcendence. As the florist tries to discover the noise, Jessica first attempts to synthesise it with a sound engineer, but things are not as they seem. Then she tries to go out and get some rest, assuming the noise is just in her head, but again the realities of the situation are not what anyone would expect. The entire film is this liminal-shifting poetic meditation on life and death, past and future. Still, all presented simultaneously in a mesmerising manner. Weerasethakul’s direction is what makes the glacial pace bearable. Because it is indeed a slow film, that only warrants such a runtime because of its wonder.
The audience will be completely enveloped in this wondrous world because you feel present. The camera is almost always anchored in one spot, viewing the scene playing out, almost like live theatre. There are no quick cuts, no tracking shots (bar one used to disorient). It’s all still and observational, and yet you feel present and moved. The sound is some of the most impressive mixing for a non-blockbuster in a long time. The silences build tension, the city soundscape is transportive, and the jungle noises make you feel a part of nature.
Ultimately, Memoria is an odyssey through experience that presents far more questions than answers in transcendence. One that is designed masterfully to evoke and provoke, but never to be bespoke, leaving audiences without words, but with wonder to last a lifetime.
Reel Dialogue: What should we do when reality stops seeming real?
We often live our lives blissfully unaware of the spiritual realm and the factors outside our control, like time, space, and reality. And yet, God is not blissfully unaware of these things, and whilst they may control us, He is in control of them.
Memoria wrestles with the past and present, both physical and spiritual, alive and dead, blending together. We can be reminded that one day these distinctions will indeed fade as we enjoy eternity with our Creator. Until then, when things seem to fall apart or not make sense anymore, we must cling to our Creator. He is the one who sustains His Creation and helps us navigate this created reality in which we live.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17