TIFF ’21: ‘Memoria’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Memoria is beautifully striking in its landscapes, as he delivers a character-driven story, about human connectivity through archaeological study. How truly connected are we to this world? How many generations have passed through us. From stories that are passed down through generations, or studying the actual land ancestors walked on, the human connection runs deep. Memoria centres on Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish orchid farmer visiting her sister in Bogotá. One morning, Jessica is torn from sleep by a loud bang resembling the rumbling sound of a large stone ball falling on metal.

Weerasethakul takes his audience on a journey through sound. The most important aspect of this film is the way the sound design impacts Jessica. Not only does Weerasethakul expertly balance the sound throughout, he lets the frame fill with silence, before awakening the senses. It is very slow, poignant, and will have audiences questioning the meaning of this film. It is left up to interpretation but the subtle hints to the extraterrestrials, to science, to human evolution, and to death, are all intertwined to show human connection.

The sound that Jessica hears is linked to her studies. As the film goes on, that connection becomes clearer. There are key points throughout the film where this sound is louder and direct. We hear the difference in Jessica’s hearing, which interested me the most. The sound frequency varied, depending on the situation or the conversation. We could hear the voices on screen slowly fade, into a faint whisper, or grow louder as Jessica became more disoriented. The third act proves that sound design is an important aspect when making a film. The choice to have the memories of Hernan (Elkin Díaz) echo through the room, while he laid his hand on Jessica was powerful.

Memoria may be a bit slow, but the stunning images that Weerasethakul creates is more than enough to suck you into this world. It slowly unravels into a beautiful story for Jessica, as she has lost her love for her study. She has lost the connectivity to the world she once firmly lived in, filled with love and respect for generations past. The empathy shown towards others and their stories is truly felt in the third act of this film and will resonate with audiences. Weerasethakul is emotional and thoughtful in his storytelling, through his symmetrical landscapes, precise camerawork, and careful direction.

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