Austin Film Festival Review: Memoria
Metaphysical meditation on sound is taxing but rewarding
By Trace Sauveur,
10:00AM, Sun. Oct. 24, 2021
Memoria, the latest feature from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a film largely concerned with sound. The creaking of a chair in a quiet hospital room, the single clack of the space bar on a keyboard, the muffled patter of rain outside.
The most important sound, though, is the one that has begun to haunt Jessica Holland (Tilda Swinton) day and night: a loud, startling single boom that appears to be coming from nowhere in particular. This alarming auditory hallucination sends Jessica on something of an investigation through her current residence in Colombia, in a search for what this sound could be – or what it could potentially mean.
However, the essence of Jessica’s journey isn’t beholden to traditional expectations. Weerasethakul has crafted a deeply spiritual slice of slow cinema that moves at an appropriately measured pace and isn’t afraid to allow its audience to sit in contemplative silence. Much of Memoria is defined by long static shots of characters basking within quiet spaces or having gentle conversations; it achieves such a mesmeric lull that sometimes it becomes a shock just to see the camera eventually cut to something else. One scene in the latter half observes a character falling asleep outside, only accompanied by the trickling of a nearby stream and the chirping of birds, that lasts no less than five minutes.
It’s something that’s at once tremendously arresting to experience once you give yourself over to the steady rhythm of the pace, and existentially frightening when the stillness is broken up by that thunderous booming. Despite mostly being an affecting character drama at its core, there are elements here to suggest something more sinister or otherworldly is at play, giving it notes of a moody psychological horror. Swinton’s performance is subtly revelatory in her stark fear of the noise that eventually gives way to an overpowering emotional reconciliation.
As you might expect, the answers offered here aren’t particularly straightforward. This is something less concerned with concrete solutions and more fixated on certain towering ideas that wash over you. What the film suggests is ultimately more powerful than any clear-cut explanation it could possibly offer; its thematic ambitions are too grand for that. Collective human consciousness, ancient civilizations, metaphysical connections between mind and body – these are the ethereal threads that Memoria leaves you clutching onto. Even for the most adventurous viewers, it may prove taxing. But to embrace its strange singularity yields a thought-provoking experience, and perhaps even a transformative one.
Austin Film Festival, Oct. 21-28. Find all our news, reviews, and interviews at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.