MEMORIA: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Returns With Another Beautiful Meditation On Memory

One of the latest discussions within the film community is displaying filmmakers with a slow or calming pace or camera work as “slow cinema”. While many seem to disagree due to the nature of what makes “fast cinema” if “slow cinema” is an added label. Filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Terrance MalickTsai Ming-Liang, and even throw in Edward Yang are often praised for their methodical editing and meditative atmospheres created within their films. However, the so-called “godfather” or “champion” in regard to this discussion is none other than Thailand filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Behind the Filmmaker and Memoria

At times going under the name “Joe” to save time throughout interviews and discussions, within his filmography Weerasethakul creates such a thick and resonating atmosphere, like a fog that you can barely make out the other side of. My interpretation of his films feels like a cross-breed between the video game Silent Hill 2 with its dense atmosphere and fog combined with abstract and thought-provoking thematics, combined with the music of ambient group Aphex Twin and the likes of Brian Eno, with its relaxing and transformative nature and pacing that creates experiences the viewer will never forget, but I digress.

MEMORIA: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Returns With Another Beautiful Meditation On Memory
source: NEON

Joe has done this throughout his entire filmography, with his “signature style” consistently being praised as they drag their film narrative themes forward. His 2010 Palme d’Or winning film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, is a film about a family slowly coming to terms with the death of a loved one and the ghostly figure of another that nearly haunts or watches over them. His “slow burn” style comes full force as it enhances the family’s grieving as only time can act as a solution to grieving and fruition. His trademark allows for mind-expanding ideas such as the infamous ape-like figure appearing in Uncle Boonmee.

Weerasethakul returns to the arthouse film landscape with his newest film, Memoria, which marks his first English language feature with Tilda Swinton leading the cast. The film tells the story of “Jessica”, a botanist who suddenly is woken up by a mysterious loud *BANG* noise. This noise continuously drives her mad and asks a local sound designer to help her recreate the sound. Like Joe‘s previous films, the plot synopsis is only the surface level and thus asks audiences to decipher the plethora of narrative throughlines and themes spread throughout the film.

NEON’s Controversial Release Plan

Before discussing Memoria as a film from my perspective, I think it is best to discuss the elephant in the room, the film distribution, “NEON”, and the release window for this film. After the North American premiere for Memoria took place at the 2021 “New York Film Festival”, the respected independent film studio decided against the standard limited to wide release window and is now releasing in theaters for one to two weeks in every theater, forever.

MEMORIA: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Returns With Another Beautiful Meditation On Memory
source: NEON

The studio would announce theater plans weekly on social media pages and the official Memoria webpage. While many film fans seem to be divided towards this, I for one understand the sentiment NEON placed with this film. The film is not a huge sell for many and thus making the film arrive in local cinemas an event for film fans. However, I digress.

Discussing Memoria

Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates yet another richly dense movie however another win in his filmography. At times rivaling to be my favorite film in his filmography. I think this goes without saying that this film deserves the theatrical experience. The bangs heard from Swinton’s character are loud and hit the viewer like a ton of bricks, rivaling the sound design in some late studio horror movies. However, that is a testament to the film’s wonderful sound design. Weerasethakul creates such a layered atmosphere here, from the loud car honks towards the beginning of the film to the rich nature sounds in the final act, he is a filmmaker of complete immersion and locks in the viewer from the first frame.

MEMORIA: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Returns With Another Beautiful Meditation On Memory
source: NEON

With the film’s luscious cinematography, Joe creates a new type of area within the Columbia landscape, one that feels lived in and natural. Memoria‘s pacing feels daunting for newcomers to Weerasethakul‘s work, however like the sound design, he locks you from the first moment and does not let go long after the credits roll. It is a slow burn but will continuously live in your brain for years, at times creating some beautiful landscapes that I am still reeling over. While the story feels dense, it is rich with discussion. Themes of memory and dreams carry the film, at times wondering if the loud bang is real or a dream from Tilda Swinton‘s “Jessica”. Speaking of Swinton, while the film contains minimal dialogue, she is given such raw emotion throughout the film. You beg to ask questions with her and empathize with her past and her unforeseen future.

The best example of the experience watching this film is that you are dreaming but not fully sleeping. And I mean this in the most positive sense. Memoria is a standout in Joe‘s filmography. Contains some of his best-filmed sequences coupled with thematics that Joe breathes new life into. If there is one movie to keep your eyes on in terms of theatrical moviegoing, it is Memoria, and while it will not work for some, others will find a newfound appreciation for Weerasethakul‘s slow-burn and rich atmosphere.

Have you seen Memoria? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!

Memoria premiered on July 15, 2021!

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