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Review: Memoria – “A one-of-a-kind experience”

Memoria is a one-of-a-kind experience; immersive and strange. It unfolds unlike other films, even from its first thirty seconds. Usually, with credits still rolling and the audience not finished shuffling in their seats, the action starts in media res at a later point in the story, gamely offering a third act pay-off. Not Memoria. Never has a film more effectively demanded the viewer’s attention from the off, and then continued to hold that attention, using some special alchemy of languid pace, offbeat storytelling and modern fantasy.

Set in Colombia, Jessica (Tilda Swinton) is awoken by a sound; a loud, low vibration – which emanates from around her, or perhaps from within. An English fish-out-of-water living in South America, Jessica travels from Medellin to Bogotá to visit her sister, Karen (Agnes Brekke) who is in hospital nursing a respiratory condition without a known cause – the first hint that all is not as it seems. Here the sound takes root in Jessica’s mind, following her around, loudly booming at inopportune moments. It leads Jessica on an odyssey through Colombia, as, enthralled and confused, she attempts to learn its cause and meaning.

Dogs follow, relatives feel distant, light and shade are more clearly defined, yet city life waxes and wanes around Jessica, now consumed by her inner struggle with the sound. An unhelpful doctor suggests religion over medication, but Hernan (Juan Pablo Urrego) a young, attractive sound engineer wants to help Jessica define the sound. Even then greater understanding of its purpose remain out of Jessica’s reach. Her journey continues, taking Jessica away from human relationships and further towards the land itself, via stunning vistas, dark caves and local folklore, as she pieces together answers from the whispered histories of the people she meets (including a captivating turn from Elkin Díaz), all leading to an astonishing finale.

The greatest joy in Memoria comes from following the story with little prior knowledge of how it unfolds. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee…) has created a masterpiece for his first English language fantasy, brimming with unnerving magic and visual mastery. Swinton is the perfect lead, managing to effortlessly convey internal struggle while being so very still.

This film should be boring, yet it is as enthralling to the viewer as the sound is to Jessica, becoming a modern picaresque.

Nothing in this review will convey the feeling of watching Memoria, it is more than cinema, but with Weerasethakul’s desire for distributor NEON to limit its release, it may remain out of many people’s reach. Seek it out.

Memoria hits UK cinemas on 14th January 2022.

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