Combustible Celluloid
With: Tilda Swinton, Elkin Díaz, Jeanne Balibar, Juan Pablo Urrego, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Agnes Brekke, Jerónimo Barón, Constanza Gutiérrez
Written by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Spanish, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 136
Date: 12/26/2021

Memoria (2021)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Bang Theory

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Cemetery of Splendor) has allowed elements of otherworldliness creep into his other movies, but Memoria is one of his weirder efforts, and yet it's difficult not to dive in and let it overcome you. Teamed with UK-born Tilda Swinton and shot in Colombia — it's Colombia's official Oscar submission for the Best International Feature Film award — Memoria concerns a sound.

Jessica (Swinton) seems to work with flowers in some capacity, but she has come to Bogotá to visit her sister Karen (Agnes Brekke), who is in the hospital. In the opening scene, she wakes up to a loud "bang" sound. Several car alarms go off. She becomes obsessed with trying to figure out the sound, which she keeps hearing at various intervals. She even goes to a soundman, Hernán Bedoya (Juan Pablo Urrego), and tries to get him to re-create it. She describes it weirdly accurately, as "a ball of concrete hitting a metal wall surrounded by seawater." When he finishes, she listens on headphones, and, even though we can't hear it ourselves, she is visibly moved.

Later, Hernán simply disappears. Jessica asks for him at the studio and no one knows what she's talking about. (But she pauses to hear a jazz band play a really cool song.) Then she meets an older man, also named Hernán, who claims to remember absolutely everything, including being born. He can feel vibrations in rocks and tell stories of events that happened near them. Finally, Weerasethakul does provide a kind of explanation of the bang sound, and... it won't be what you're expecting. The film is on the long side, with mostly still, wide shots, held for lengthy moments, providing plenty of time to ponder whatever is going on here.

As for me, I started thinking about how time might be fluid, built as it is around our memories, which are fallible. The sound re-occurring throughout is simply an example of it bouncing around in time, never content to happen at any specific moment. Memoria is a film to treasure, even more so because of its strange release schedule. It will play on only one screen at a time, for one week at a time, moving from city to city, and it will never be released on DVD, Blu-ray, or to streaming. I like the romance of this idea, but dislike that it will be so difficult for so many to have access to it. In any case, Weerasethakul — who is surely one of the brightest talents in world cinema — has done it again.

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