Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Memoria is a slow-moving, meditative picture infused with mythologies and mysteries to be solved. Using an unconventional approach to storytelling, the production stays true to director Apichatpong Weerasethaku’s distinctive style.
The protagonist is Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a British expat in Colombia who awakens one morning to an unusual booming sound. Confused and intrigued, she begins a long and meandering journey to understand what the bang was and where it came from. Her quest takes her to a university, then to a sound engineer in Bogotá and later to a forest, all the while hearing the same noise again and again in different places.
With a runtime of just over two and a quarter hours, the film indulges in each scene. Some moments of silence are held for an extensive period of time, and while they do not advance the narrative, they do intensify the mystical mood. The audience is required to drop expectations and let themselves be lulled by the cadence. Without entering the right frame of mind, Memoria can seem pretentious and overly cryptic. The loose narrative unravels very slowly and is then wrapped up discreetly. Swinton skilfully juxtaposes the protagonist’s calm demeanour with her inner disquiet, but the overall viewing experience takes precedence over the development of the plot and its characters.
The mix of English and Spanish language is not disruptive, but the dialogues themselves remain vague in content. Every element of the film feels distant from the audience, in spite of the fact that the story deals with very intimate and profound concepts. Its ambience is perhaps the strongest and most engaging feature. Weerasethakul currently has an art installation named A Minor History on display in Bangkok, and Memoria itself seems to belong to an immersive gallery experience. The soundscape takes centre stage and viewers must merely abandon themselves and make up their own interpretations.
A transfixing and admirable filmmaking feat, Memoria will certainly prove to be a rewarding experience for some, just as it will likely seem inaccessible and frustrating for others.
Memoria is released in select cinemas on 14th January 2022.
Watch the trailer for Memoria here: