The first international feature by Cannes-winning Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul finds Tilda Swinton’s character haunted by a mysterious sound.
Jessica (Swinton) is in Medellín, Colombia, visiting her ailing sister and looking into a fungi that threatens orchids. (By profession, Sarah holds the impressive title of orchidologist.) The sound that interrupts her daily life is otherworldly, appearing at any time in the day or night. It confounds Jessica, who visits a sound engineer in a studio, who recreates the sound she hears artificially, even inserting it into a song that his band records. What this sound is eventually becomes clear, but not before Jessica’s languorous journey around the city expands outwards, into the lush Colombian countryside, where she meets a fish scaler at work, who hints at some link between them.
For anyone who has seen Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours, Syndromes and a Century or the Palme d’Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Memoria will likely be seen as Apichatpong expanding his canvass. But his interest remains the same – an inquiry into the way we live our lives, and exploring the periphery of existence, where mortality and what lies beyond share the same space. His films are magical, elusive and sensual. And in Tilda Swinton he has his perfect lead. She balances the discomfort Jessica feels at experiencing the noise, but also curiosity as to its source. Anyone sensitive to the sounds that populate everyday life might find resonance in Apichatpong’s film. For everyone else, it’s more than enough just to revel in the images the filmmaker gifts us, alongside Swinton’s sublime portrayal.