Memoria review: A magical mystery tour of Tilda Swinton’s subconscious that proves oddly comforting

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ecological psychodrama defies all explanation

Adam White
Thursday 13 January 2022 17:23
Memoria trailer

Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Starring Tilda Swinton, Elkin Díaz, Juan Pablo Urrego, Agnes Brekke. 12A, 136 minutes.

Towards the end of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ecological psychodrama Memoria, a man lies asleep in the grass, or possibly dead. He’s in the countryside outside Medellin, with Tilda Swinton watching him. Weerasethakul’s camera remains static for what feels like a century, the filmmaker unconcerned with time, cuts or cinematic convention. He makes you survey the man’s body for breath, notice the sway of the greenery that surrounds him, and the gentleness of the neighbouring wind. Memoria lives or dies in these moments.

Swinton is Jessica, a British expat in Colombia, who is startled one night by an alarming thud. Later on, she describes it to an audio engineer as sounding like “a big ball of concrete falling into a metal well surrounded by seawater”, and urges him to try and recreate it. Somehow, after 10 or so minutes of digital clicking, scrolling and clanging, he does. The sound continues to haunt her: in her head, in the street, interrupting a dull story told by her sister at dinner. She asks a doctor for help sleeping, tells a friend she thinks she’s going mad, and journeys from city to jungle, where she finds answers. Maybe.

Memoria defies all explanation, resembling a magical mystery tour of the subconsciousness more than a narrative film. If anything, it’s a living deja vu. Or the closest cinema can get to that disquieting sensation of meeting someone you’re convinced you’ve encountered before. Weerasethakul favours long, unbroken takes, often captured at a distance. His characters talk in perpetual ellipses, about space and consciousness and state-of-the-art refrigerators. Swinton is the film’s emotional anchor, always pulling the film back to earth when it risks becoming too airy for its own good.

It’s a risk worth taking, though. Memoria quickly settles into a sort of mystical ambiguity, constantly inching towards full explanation before retreating. It introduces subplots that seem laced with portent and metaphor, then drops them. Dreams and reality are interchangeable.

Your enjoyment of Memoria will depend on your endurance for this kind of art film, but there’s something rewarding about it once it reaches its close. Not for the explanations that never really arrive, but for its sense of the world – that we’re all connected somehow, barrelling through a planet too astounding for words. For a movie primarily about Tilda Swinton being pestered by a big metallic splonk, it’s oddly comforting.

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