VIFF ’21 Review: ‘Memoria’ is an experience

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a unique filmmaker with only a few films under his belt, but each of them garnering widespread acclaim, probably most notably with 2010s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, for which he won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Memoria is the first film he has made outside of his native Thailand, and the first time he has worked with an international cast. While the film is beautifully shot and singular in its vision, it’s also overlong, incredibly indulgent, and will reach into your soul and pull out… something.

If it sounds like I have mixed feelings about this film, it’s because I do. As I left the theatre, I struggled with what I was meant to take away from the experience. At just over 2 hours and 15 minutes in length, much of the film is long wordless shots of Tilda Swinton wandering around Bogotá and looking at things. Her character, Jessica, hears a sound, a loud booming that can’t quite be pinned down. It’s altogether metallic and earthy, grounded and ethereal, and she is the only one that can hear it.

It isn’t easy to describe the rest of the film because both so little happens, but also so much. As she tracks down the source of the noise, Swinton goes from overtired and troubled to existentially pained and searching for connection.

I honestly still don’t know how I felt about the film, but I can tell you that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. As I mentioned, I am definitely in the minority in that I didn’t connect with it, but the people who are connecting with it are connecting with it hard.

So there it is. Memoria is an experience as much as it is a film, and with its upcoming “never-ending” release plan (see below), its distributors aim to keep it that way. I can hear you asking if it’s good or not, so let me put it like this for you: on a five-star scale, I would give it a long, lonesome look into the middle distance as I contemplate my own existential longing.

Memoria played as part of the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival. On December 26th, it will begin a “never-ending release” in which it plays in one cinema at a time, for one week at a time, for the foreseeable future.


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