Memoria is the type of film that puts you in its unique wavelength almost immediately. There is a calmness to the film, and a slowness that becomes entrancing. We see it in the first moments, when we are introduced to a still frame of a bedroom. The camera holds on this, until a forboding sound is heard and we see our lead character Jessica (Tilda Swinton) slowly rise from her bed. The film maintains this pace, and we are brought under its spell as spectators. It works almost like a peaceful dream until it becomes spoiled by an ending that felt as if someone was shaking me awake.
Memoria is a film about many facets such as the power of memory, our relationship with the earth, and the almost transformative power of human connection. As Jessica, Swinton plays a character who is living in Bogota while her ailing sister is in the hospital. Throughout the film she is constantly being bothered by a peculiar booming sound, one that others don’t seem to hear. She seeks the help of a young sound engineer named Hernan who she hopes will be able to recreate the sound for her. Through a series of audio experiments, Hernan is able to find an approximate sound Jessica has been searching for. The two become fast friends, until suddenly Hernan is nowhere to be found.
Later Jessica decides to take a trip with an Anthropologist friend of hers to the countryside where an excavation is underway. There she finds a villager who is also named Hernan, and he tells her of his secluded existence, but that he is able to remember everything in his life. Soon the film turns somewhat fantastical as memories are intertwined, and the past can be experienced by both Jessica and Hernan.
What makes Memoria such a fascinating experience is how it chooses to tell its story. Much of it relies on the viewer to trust in it so they might follow along finding their own relationship with the film. In other words, this is a film that feels more than informs. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a filmmaker who remains unasssuming. What he makes us aware of is the themes he wishes to explore, and through that wants us to relate to the material in our own way. In many instances, his framing remains still, and often his scenes are only made up of one ongoing shot, with maybe a couple of inserts thrown in. I can’t remember if he actually uses any close-ups, and maybe just a handful of medium shots on Swinton to convey what she is thinking. This distance might be reminiscient of other filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu who also was minimal and kept his camera away from the action. In this way, we as the spectators can do our own informing of what we are seeing, and how we perceive it.
The sound design is also a thing of wonder, as Weerasethakul creates the humming of water, or the scraping of fish scales seem so organic yet ethereal at the same time. I mentioned moments of stillness, and it is here where we are asked to be patient. Nothing is too quickly revealed to us, almost as if we are being asked to contemplate every frame. Swinton herself moves very distinctly but never overpowering. She is able to be physically present to us at all times, and her shape and features almost appear ghostly yet comforting. Swinton is one of our great risk takers in film, and one of the most exciting actresses in modern cinema. The look of her face can read a million feelings, and she uses it as a true asset.
After all of this gushing, you probably think I loved this movie to no end, and that’s what I thought was going to happen. However as I mentioned before, something awoke me from my gentle slumber. There is a choice made at the end of this film, which took me out of it. It felt jarring, and unnecessary. I won’t speak of what it is, because I feel this is a film that others should have their own relationship with, so I don’t want to dare influence anyone. However this certain choice boiled sudden anger in me and frustration, I felt that it was a betrayal of everything that came before it. I admit it was a bold choice, and I wanted to sit with it in the hopes I could come to terms with it. That was not the case as I sat down to write this review. Perhaps someday I can reconcile my feelings with the ending of this film, but not today.
However despite my reservations of the ending, I sincerely wish people seek out Memoria for themselves simply because there really isn’t anything else like it. 95% of my experience with the film was lovely and alive, in the way the most exciting cinema can be. Right now the film has a unique roadshow exclusive engagement in movie theatres. The distributor NEON has been touring it to select cities since April, so if it has yet to come to your neck of the words, try to seek it out when you can. It is unfortunate that as of now no physical media of the film is yet to be announced, as its director and star have been pushing for it to be theatre only. As with other filmmakers, who rally behind cinemas, I find this short sighted as they don’t seem to consider theatres themselves are not entirely inclusive for many groups. Art house films in particular should want as many people as possible to see their work, and until theatres are capable to accomodate everyone, this is a choice I don’t condone.
Still Memoria is sure to be a fascinating viewing experience for those who are able to join in on it. It gives one hope that movies aren’t dead, and they can inspire great reaction in you either positively or negatively. Where I failed to follow through with the ending, perhaps someone will have a different relationship with it. This is not a film to turn away from it asks you to join it.
3 Stars out of 4