Monday, December 27, 2021

Review: Wonderful "Memoria" Has a Plot and Tilda Swinton Investigates Why

Memoria (c) Neon

Film: Memoria 

In Cinemas (in perpetuity) 

Premise: Jessica (Tilda Swinton) tells her sister Karen “I think I’m going crazy.” And Karen responds, “It’s not the worst thing to be.” Yes, she’s being cheeky, because she thinks Jessica is being silly, but Jessica is very serious, although maybe not in her tone. Jessica is a British woman currently in Colombia, and she was recently woken up by a loud bang, a noise she cannot explain. Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest meditation on the meaning of life in a world full of mysteries starts with this mysterious noise, which continues at random times as Jessica tries to discover why this MacGuffin is following her and no one else (not dissimilar to Elsa’s journey in “Frozen II” – the only time, I dare say, in film discussion that anyone will compared an Apichatpong film to a Disney one). I have seen all but one of his previous films ever since his breakthrough indie hit “Tropical Malady,” and I knew what to expect: long uninterrupted stretches of nature; rarely using close-up shots, preferring to let the audience search the screen for what he wants you to see; and just the strangeness of the world that only those attuned can grasp. For over two hours, he has taken over your mind – how much stays in your memory is up to you. 

My Take: Interestingly enough, even though Swinton’s character is on an existential life quest, this is probably the most relaxed character I have ever seen her play. Her unnerved reactions to the universe playing tricks on her is only recognizable to the audience and not the characters around her. Instead of showing fear, Jessica changes the subject to various random topics, from punk rock to the importance of media in one’s life to a hysterical exchange about Salvador Dali. When the director finally gets to his version of the truth (which is never easy, hard to put into words and is usually conveyed more as a premonition) the astute viewer has probably already given into the director's mood and not the plot's mystery.  I can’t accurately say if I laughed at one of his crazier images towards the end of the movie out of surprise or just the audacity of Apichatpong presenting it to us so casually and without any kind of explanation.   This is one of the best movies of 2021, but I can't exactly say why.

VIP. NEON. The US releasing company has decided to present this movie for one week only in one city at a time across the country for the foreseeable future, and decided not to release the film to streaming or on physical media. How long this will last is debatable, but I understand the impulse to make this movie special for cinephiles (of course I may feel differently if I didn’t live in New York which is city #1 of the tour and lived in instead in city #215). Weerasethakul’s films are never for the general public but having Tilda Swinton in the cast will probably make “Memoria” more popular in the US than all his previous movies combined. So, I applaud this experimental release format just because it's reflection of the movie itself.

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