Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s MEMORIA was a hot ticket at the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival with a packed Oriental Theatre. And MEMORIA is a one of a kind film that cast its spell on me and also left me puzzling over some of its meanings.
It’s no surprise that Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film unfolds almost like a dream given his reputation. Or a dream interrupted as it opens with Tilda Swinton being woken up in the middle of the night by a strange sound. A sound that will reoccur seemingly at random and which no one else can hear and which will deny her of sleep. Investigating that sound, with the hope that she isn’t suffering from auditory hallucination and going crazy is essentially the plot of the film. And it will lead Tilda Swinton to some strange places in the country of Colombia.
MEMORIA unfolds slowly with gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot. And a pregnant silence over much of the film. It’s a quiet that’s interrupted that’s one of the biggest effects of the film and which large scale blockbusters with their constant sound effects and score can’t duplicate. It’s a hypnotic and meditative effect that gives the audience plenty of time to run with ideas. History reverberating being one of them. Albeit, it would be an incredible audience member that would be able to predict the cause of the sounds precisely, which even by arthouse films standards is a wild out of leftfield idea. And a divisive one judging by some overheard audience reactions. I don’t think it fully works myself, but the unique experience of watching MEMORIA unfold trumped an impenetrable idea or two. It’s clearly a film meant to be seen on a big screen with high quality audio and home viewing will not cast the same spell.
What undoubtedly works is Tilda Swinton’s performance which forms the throughline of the film. Filmed almost entirely in medium shots, Tilda Swinton restrains from melodrama and gives a performance of great empathy. She projects sensitivity and intelligence. And even a bit of humor in a scene between her and a doctor who’s suspicious of a professional woman coming to her for a prescription for Xanax.
MEMORIA is clearly not a film for everyone with its slow pace and sometimes confounding plot turns. But, it’s undoubtedly a unique experience that adventurous moviegoers should seek out. To me, that made it an invigorating night at the movies.
MEMORIA had its one and only showing at the Milwaukee Film Festival yesterday. And it’s not going to be available for home viewing anytime soon. But, the film is going to continue its unique theatrical tour in limited run for the forseeable future. To check out where it may be playing, including in Madison in May, I recommend MEMORIA’s official website. In the meantime, the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 21, 2022 until May 5, 2022. You can get tickets at mkefilm.org.