Movie review: Memoria

Movie Review: Memoria Movie Review: Memoria
Undated film still handout from Memoria. Pictured: Tilda Swinton as Jessica Holland. PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Kick The Machine Films/Burning/Anna Sanders Films/Match Factory Productions/ZDF-Arte and Piano/Sandro Kopp. All Rights Reserved. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ Film Reviews.
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By Damon Smith, PA Film Critic

Since he made his feature directorial debut more than 20 years ago with the aptly titled documentary Mysterious Object At Noon, award-winning film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has repeatedly plunged arthouse audiences into woozy, waking dreams captured in his signature long takes with naturalistic ambient sound.

Memoria, his first film scripted (partially) in English and shot outside his native Thailand, uses the streets and jungles of present-day Colombia as a backdrop to a hypnotic, poetic and at times soporific meditation on reminiscence and the unknown.

It’s a film which wilfully embraces ambiguity and defies categorisation, building to a protracted finale involving lead actor Tilda Swinton and Colombian co-star Elkin Diaz that both soothes and confounds (“I am a hard disk and somehow, you are an antenna…”)

Whether audiences are willing to accept Weerasethakul’s resolution is debatable.


I was rudely roused from my blissful, trance-like state at that juncture like the rows of parked cars at the beginning of the film, which sound their alarms one by one in response to an invisible force and just as quickly return to serene and secure silence.

Performing in both English and Spanish, Swinton is a ghostlike presence, floating through scenes with an eerie calm as a new acquaintance vanishes without trace and a man she thought was dead turns out to be alive and well.

Pictured: Tilda Swinton as Jessica Holland and Jeanne Balibar as Agnes Cerkinsky. PA Photo/Kick The Machine Films/Burning/Anna Sanders Films/Match Factory Productions/ZDF-Arte and Piano/Sandro Kopp.

She plays botanist and orchid expert Jessica Holland, who travels from Medellin to Bogota to visit her sister Karen (Agnes Brekke), who is recuperating in hospital from a mysterious malady.

Karen’s scholarly husband Juan (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) suggests his wife may be the victim of a curse conjured by Amazonian tribal elders, who are the subject of Karen’s research.

In the early hours of the morning, Jessica is rudely woken by a short, almost metallic thud.

She initially blames construction work in a neighbouring property, but that explanation is quickly debunked.

Playing detective, Jessica visits sound engineer Hernan (Juan Pablo Urrego), who asks her to describe the disturbance.

“It’s like a rumble from the core of the Earth,” she offers in faltering Spanish.

He recreates the sound and when Jessica experiences the thuds again, she realises no-one else can hear them.

Fearing the most obvious explanation (“I think I’m going crazy”), the botanist seeks the source of her sonic disturbances through a new acquaintance, French archaeologist Agnes (Jeanne Balibar).

Anchored by Swinton’s spectral performance, Memoria is a deliberately slow-paced, sensory experience that possesses the same swooning lyricism as the Thai writer-director’s earlier work.

Pictured: Tilda Swinton as Jessica Holland.: PA Photo/Kick The Machine Films/Burning/Anna Sanders Films/Match Factory Productions/ZDF-Arte and Piano/Sandro Kopp.

Apart from the otherworldly sonic boom of the closing 10 minutes, Weerasethakul’s metaphysical meander is an entrancing out-of-body experience that no-one, even those who reject it, will easily forget.

Don’t wake me up.

(12A, 136 mins) Drama/Sci-Fi/Romance. Tilda Swinton, Elkin Diaz, Juan Pablo Urrego, Jeanne Balibar, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Agnes Brekke, Jeronimo Baron, Constanza Gutierrez. Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Released in Ireland January 14th.

Our rating: 8.5/10

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