LFF REVIEW: ‘Memoria’ (2021)– Apichatpong’s Transcendental Journey to Colombia

A man and a woman sit next to each other at a small wooden table in a grassy area. The man has curly dark hair and is looking away from the camera, wearing a light green shirt and blue jeans. The woman has short auburn hair and wears a beige shirt with jeans.
Image courtesy of NEON

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Memoria’ takes its audience on a journey to somewhere wholly unexpected, yet upon arrival, it’s clear that the film couldn’t end anywhere else.

Tilda Swinton has graced three of the most anticipated films at this year’s London Film Festival. From Wes Anderson’s charming The French Dispatch, to reprising her role in Joanna Hogg’s sublime The Souvenir Part II, she has given performances filled with the humour and presence of an old master. However, her starring role in Memoria, the latest from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is the one that most catches the eye. Memoria is the first film Apichatpong has made outside of Thailand, and Swinton is the first global star he has worked with. Yet, the two appear to be perfectly matched, and Memoria exhibits both of their greatest strengths.

Swinton plays Jessica, a Scottish orchid farmer visiting her sister in Colombia. Every night she is troubled by a loud metallic thudding sound that she cannot trace the source of. The film follows Jessica as she tries to locate the sound and decipher what it could mean. Apichatpong is a master of such narratives, creating what feels like narrative digressions that are revealed to be central to the plot’s unravelling. The film’s conclusion is so astounding that not a sound can be heard, and this silence is jarring because sound is central to the film.

Memoria takes complete control of all things sonic during its course. From exaggerating or muting certain sounds, to the way in which sounds coalesce, to that ever-present thud, this film catches spectators off guard with its unique sound design. Lulling the audience into a trance-like state before forcing a harmless jump scare – like the feel of something cold suddenly brushing the back of your neck. Apichatpong’s creation of ambiance through sound is often masterful, never more so than here, where he and long-time sound designer, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr, have created something unmatched in its control and gracefulness.

Swinton’s performance feels career-defining. She gives such a strong sense of who Jessica is through her reservedness and tenderness. However, she can fade this in and out, as though Jessica is merely an image being projected onto her, removing all signifiers of Jessica from her body language to create a blank canvas, consumed by discovery, memories, and sound. Swinton’s chameleon-like ability to take on different roles is demonstrated as she slowly and sharply sheds and returns to being Jessica without stirring the audience, a skill not to be underestimated.

Memoria takes its audience on a journey to somewhere wholly unexpected, yet upon arrival, it’s clear that the film couldn’t end anywhere else. Apichatpong and Tilda Swinton prove to be an incredible partnership, one that hopefully proves to continue. Memoria is a film that washes over you, lets you sit in it calmly, before gently easing you back into the real world.

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Elkin Díaz
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Screenwriter: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Producers: Diana Bustamante, Julio Chavezmontes, Charles de Meaux, Simon Field, Keith Griffiths, Michael Weber, Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Trailer for Memoria.