Director/Screenplay – Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Producers – Diana Bustamante, Julio Chavezmontes, Charles de Meaux, Simon Field, Keith Griffiths, Michael Weber & Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Photography – Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Music – Cesar Lopez, Visual Effects – Automatik Visual Effects (Supervisor – Jean-Michel Boublil) & Gato Encerrado Films (Supervisor – Jean Manuel Betancourt), Special Effects – Bajo Camara FX, Production Design – Angelica Perea. Production Company – Kick the Machine/Burning/Anna Sanders Films/Match Factory Productions/Piano/X Stream Pictures/QIY/Titan/Rediance/2DF/Arte/Louverture Films/Doha Film Institute/BACF (Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation)/Bord Cadre Films/Sovereign Films/Field of Vision/Estudios Churubusco.
Tilda Swinton (Jessica Holland), Daniel Gimenez Cacho (Juan Ospina), Agnes Breeke (Karen Holland), Elkin Diaz (Herman Bedoya), Juan Pablo Urrego (Herman Bedoya), Jeanne Balibar (Agnes Cerkinsky), Costanza Gutierrez (Dr Costanza)
Jessica Holland is a British woman living in Colombia. She begins to hear a mysterious booming sound that nobody else can. She consults sound engineer Juan Ospina in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a Thai director who has made films such as Mysterious Objects at Noon (2000), Blissfully Yours (2002), The Adventures of Iron Pussy (2003), Syndromes and a Century (2006) and especially Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. These have gained Weerasethakul an undeniable critical respectability and made him an arthouse and festival circuit favourite. Beginning with Tropical Malady (2004), in which one of the stories featured a ghost tiger, Weerasethakul began to venture into fantastical material and has remained there ever since with the likes of Uncle Boonmee, Mekong Hotel (2012) and Cemetery of Splendor (2015).
Memoria was the first English-language film for Weerasethakul, although the language varies equally between English and Spanish. The film has also been shot in Colombia. It is also Weerasethakul’s first film with an internationally recognisable name actor – Tilda Swinton – where in all his previous films he preferred to use unknowns and non-professionals. Memoria premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a director who gains a great deal of acclaim in arthouse and film festival circles. He also happens to make genre films, although ones that rarely get coverage in most genre outlets. I admit to having a great deal of difficulty with Weerasethakul’s films – they often come with moments that are intensely haunted or where the supernatural sits amid the everyday with casual regard. On the other hand, the fantastic and most of the plot elements in Weerasethakul’s films are like one of those puzzles where you are meant to fit squares and right angled shapes together but where the pieces have been placed in the wrong configuration. There is no real dramatic plot in Weerasethakul’s films – just long, slow scenes that seem to sit at oblique right angles to one another but never seem to connect up to anything else. There is certainly nothing in the way of dramatic direction in the sense of a plot that goes from A to B.
Memoria is a typical example of this. There are various, long static scenes with Tilda Swinton visiting her sister (Agnes Breeke) in hospital, joining her and her husband in a restaurant, where a dog seems to follow her in the street, visiting a manufacturer of refrigerator units with Daniel Gimenez Cacho, or where she goes to a doctor seeking a medical solution to the mystery sound. The most interesting scenes – in the sense that they seem to be going somewhere – are the ones where she visits sound engineer Daniel Gimenez Cacho and tries to isolate the mystery sound she keeps hearing.
After nearly two hours of this, comprised mostly of long, slow scenes and shots that go on for several minutes at a time, we get a scene where she visits a house in the countryside and meets a man (Elkin Diaz). He has the name Hernan Bedoya – for some reason, there are two characters with this name that appear in the film, although I was not able to discern why. They have a long conversation in which he states he has never moved away from his town and has no television. She briefly tries to argue the benefits of having a television before he starts to talk about how rocks store memories. She asks to see him sleep and so he lies down on the grass and the camera sits there in a single shot that goes on for several minutes as he sleeps and she watches.
They move into his home but the conversation thereafter becomes murky to the point of being incomprehensible. From what I am able to glean from rewatching the scene, he appears to indicate he is an extra-terrestrial (although I could be completely wrong about this). At one point in the conversation, they sit at the table holding hands during which she realises “I’m not really here, am I?” although I have no idea what she means by such a statement. The scene ends and then we get a shot of the jungle as a rock-like UFO shaped vaguely like a pear takes off and flies away into the clouds, making one of the booms she heard and leaving behind a slowly evaporating ring in the air.