Fantasy drama Memoria marks the English-language debut from acclaimed Thai writer and director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who was adamant that his latest should be seen only in theatres, not at home. Tilda Swinton stars in the beguiling arthouse piece as Jessica Holland, a Scottish woman running a flower market in Medellín, Colombia. When visiting her sister Karen (Agnes Brekke) in Bogotá, she is awoken in the dead of night by a strange, almighty sound. Unsettled by the mystery around the cause of this, she begins an investigation that leads her out of the hustle and bustle of the city, deep into the country’s verdant wilderness.
With long, still takes, little dialogue, and perplexing sound design, this film is as unconventional as it gets in a narrative sense. Substituting story and structure for an explorative, minimalist character study, the camera stealthily stalks its protagonist from afar as the plot slowly unravels. This patient but very deliberated approach to feature filmmaking threatens to alienate its audience, leaving long stretches of nothingness in between Jessica’s brief encounters with civilisation.
She interacts with a handful of other characters throughout her search for answers, but the weight of presence in Swinton’s performance carries the film. Well known for quirks in the career choices she makes, she is a good fit for the leading role in an experimental project such as this. There is something existential and otherworldly about where the tale takes us, and these themes are amplified with a leading turn that does a lot with very little.
More of a big screen art-installation than a movie, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria is a challenging, bamboozling experience but when immersed in its oddities, it can also be thought-provoking and bizarrely rewarding. It’s undoubtedly like nothing else you’ll see in the cinema all year, but its success depends almost entirely on the viewer’s tolerance for its wildly avantgarde sensibilities.