Memoria, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first feature since 2015’s Cemetery of Splendor, and Jury prize winner at the last Cannes film festival, is a work that says ‘you can take it with you’.
Between these two features, the artist-filmmaker had released six short pieces while continuing to exhibit single-channel videos and media installations; a recent exhibition of some 20 works, Periphery of Night, recently closed at the IAC in Lyon, France.
These shorts were not shot exclusively in Thailand, and the filmmaker had been considering making an international feature for some time. Countries of origin for Memoria include Thailand, Columbia, where the film was shot, China, France, Germany, the UK, Mexico, Qatar, and Switzerland. TIFF’s sole screening of the film would provide younger audiences with a first opportunity to discover his work on a large screen while those familiar with him, those who were unable to make it to Cannes, could finally share media art muse Tilda Swinton’s experiences in Columbia.
As with the recent films of Ryusuke Hamaguchi, also a Cannes winner, Memoria arrived with several positive reviews and longer analytical texts.
In short, Swinton’s character, Jessica, begins to encounter auditory experiences that only she can hear inside her head. The audience shares this deep jarring sound, more like a summoning than an invitation. The elements that constitute the director’s world are carried with him to Columbia, including hospitals, a character filled with questions embracing the experience rather than fearing it, soldiers in uniform, lush jungles, a presence that co-exists with us, and ufos. And to give it an additional French/European touch, actress Jeanne Balibar has a cameo on a bench in Bogota.
In her quest for something that is less about solving this haunting than ascertaining it’s hers, she receives assistance from characters who may have existed, or not, as with the sound engineer who tries to replicate what is in her head, to the fisherman by the river where she strikes gold. The man is a dream and semantics conduit who lulls both her and the audience into a trance-like state. Apichatpong Weerasethakul excels at achieving this, through long takes and a lushly organic and murmuring soundscape, a process present in several of his media artworks. Memoria’s ending is also a shoutout to his earlier Primitive exhibition.
What is different however is the light, from city to jungle, all is new and adds the weight of drama to Swinton’s masterful portrait of anxious expectation; the director, subtle as always, does not want to convey relief. Rather, it is a state that takes over her, and possibly some of us, to which she gives herself. From the waking moments in the film’s opening, the first ‘alarm’, to the bed she sits on near the end of the film, this character was never at home. She was elsewhere, in that filmic space some of Weerasethakul’s works manage to open.
Header image ©Kick the Machine Films, Burning, Anna Sanders Films, Match Factory Productions, ZDF/Arte and Piano, 2021.