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#TIFF21 Review: Memoria (Special Events)

September 10, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film from Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Memoria is his first film made outside his home country of Thailand. But the film, which is set in Colombia and unfolds through a mix of English and Spanish, still feels at one with the rest of his filmography.

Tilda Swinton stars in the film as Jessica, a Scottish orchid farmer staying in Bogotá, who is awoken early one morning by a loud booming sound, which starts following her everywhere she goes. She starts consulting with sound engineers and other experts to find the source of this sound that only she can hear, sending her on a strange journey that takes her deep into the jungle.

This is a film that is mainly about creating a sense of ambience through static long shots and diegetic sounds. It mostly unfolds through wide shots that have a very still quality to them, capturing low-key conversations and background noise. Many of the images here could just as easily be projected on an art gallery wall as a cinema screen. The sound design here is quite interesting as well, forcing us to focus on the sounds that are all around us.

Despite the language difference, this is still very much an Apichatpong film, with similar themes of death, reincarnation, and shared memories as his Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Swinton provides a fine muse for the filmmaker, and is clearly on the same wavelength as him with her subdued performance. The film’s centrepiece sequence is a transfixing conversation that her character has with a local fish scaler named Hernan (Elkin Diaz), who lives in a secluded village.

The plot and themes do take a while to fully reveal themselves, and the 135 minute running time can feel overlong and somewhat self-indulgent. But if you can put yourself in the right headspace and settle in for the slow pace of Memoria, the film rewards us with a very interesting final act.

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 13th – 4:00 PM at Cinesphere IMAX Theatre

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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