The Depth of Delusion Ensemble: Memoria (2021) - Reviewed


Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Memoria (2021) begins on a startling note, with a resounding boom inside the head of Jessica, a loner botanist, played by Tilda Swinton. The sound wakes her up from a dead sleep, and she wanders around her dark apartment, pondering what it means. The sound becomes more and more frequent, interrupting her daily activities, and Jessica starts to worry and tries to investigate the cause of it--is it a physical ailment or some sort of mental issue?

Jessica is less of a fleshed out character and more of an audience surrogate, a guide through the philosophical journey that is the narrative of the film. Weerasethakul eschews formalism and the three act structure for something much more meditative and ambient. In direct contrast with the vast majority of modern cinema, the camerawork and pacing is deliberate and methodical, with long takes and minimal cuts. 

The style of shot blocking is similar to the work of Japanese director Yasujir┼Ź Ozu, in which a single static distanced camera view is watching a conversation and all of the movement comes from the characters in the scene. The last third takes place in the jungles of Columbia and the lush green environment is a perfect background for the low-key sequences. There are also serene asides following Jessica around as she strolls around taking in the sights of the city or perusing an art gallery. This idea of enjoying the moment rings even more true when the past few years have had events that artificially slowed down society as a whole, forcing it to stop in its tracks and just be present in the now.

Memoria is essentially about two things: preserving memories and experiences for future generations and how important sound is to the human experience. Memoria is Latin for “memory” and also one of the canons of rhetoric or classical discourse. It relies on the person engaging in it to memorize passages and arguments and then present them orally. This applies to the film as well, as it is Weerasethakul’s contribution to film discourse (this is somewhat meta and outside the narrative of the film itself). It makes sense why he chose to only release this film traveling around theatrically because it adds to the concept of it being ephemeral and not available as a hard copy--only accessible through the memory of the people who saw it. 

The sound design is incredible and there is a particular interest in smaller background noises, like the creaking of a chair or the way the beeping of a hospital monitor and a distant outside car alarm serendipitously synchronize. It doesn’t have a score at all, any music heard in the film is diegetic. There is a sound designer character who goes into a lot of technical depth about what make a sound, and as a synth nerd myself who dabbles in sound creation and making patches from scratch, it’s quite engaging. 

Memoria will probably not appeal to the vast majority of filmgoers as it less of a traditional film and more of a mood. Those who do enjoy slow cinema will most likely get the most out of it.

--Michelle Kisner