Memoria (2021)

Tilda stares at a square of daylight within a glass chamber surrounded by concrete walls

I am so glad pal Stephanie urged me to go out and see this when I was feeling tired and dispirited and short on time between returning from Scotland and heading to Michigan. Apparently writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul intends to only play this in theatres on tour (though the good news is it’s also described as ‘neverending’ so there will be time to see it). It is both a visual feast and an aural one. I am always interested in sound but I have also been learning about the shapes of sound and new ways of manipulating it in my course with Sarah Belle Reid on sound and synthesis. So I am definitely part of the ideal audience.

It’s a film that so much mirrors our times of dislocation, confusion, and mystery. It is hard to imagine anyone but Tilda being our cicerone on this journey: who else can embody deep listening so vividly? That said, the rest of the cast is superb. The story begins with her character Jessica Holland waking suddenly to a distressing sound. It’s so well crafted: the sound is deep, disturbing and yet so enigmatic. Hearing it you cannot imagine ever forgetting it — and yet it is so singular, odd, and unexpected it seems impossible to repeat.

Yet that is what Jessica attempts to do — as well as to find out whether anyone else has heard it. Her life is displacement: a Scot in Columbia, her sister is hospitalised although the cause is unclear, dreams recur and are shared, the noise or something like it returns, jarring Jessica although others sometimes seem not to hear it. She seems to always be in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, looking at art or artefacts, happening upon impromptu concerts. The randomness of life collides with her half-hearted attempts to do something, often frustrated by the language barrier or other confusions.

She tries to get help from a sound engineer, Hernán, who attempts to use her often-impressionistic descriptions to replicate the startling noise. In the background there are glimpses of the continuing volatility of the country, including government roadblocks and people running from the sound of gunfire (or is it just another instance of Jessica’s sound?).

What is real? What is dream? Are the people and things she encounters actually there or just imagined? If you have no patience for meandering, playful, dreamlike narratives this will not suit. If you are open to that kind of experience, follow Tilda. The trailer below, which includes the noise but doesn’t have all the rumble and complexity you get in a good theatre.

The official trailer for Memoria