DIRECTOR: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

CAST: Tilda Swinton, Elkin Díaz, Jeanne Balibar, Juan Pablo Urrego, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Agnes Brekke, Jerónimo Barón, Constanza Gutiérrez

RUNNING TIME: 136 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: A British woman (Swinton) develops a mysterious hearing sensation whilst in Colombia…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

There are slow-burns, and then there’s Memoria. I’m fine with slow-burns, as they often allow for a sense of atmosphere and mood to seep into the storytelling, but there is such a thing as going so slow that your patience very quickly starts to wear thin, and sadly Memoria is one where I often found myself utterly struggling to keep focused on the screen.

Admittedly, I know next to nothing about the work and style of Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, except for the knowledge that his 2010 film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was the recipient of that year’s Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (and with a memorable title like that, who can blame them?), but even still this was a difficult experience, one that made me feel stupid because I know this is going down well with critics – as of writing, it has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – which by turn makes me think that I am missing something that everyone else seems to have picked up on. I was too busy fighting my dwindling patience to focus on anything in this film, which I was already not caring too much for because of its dry, detached nature that left a very cold feeling in my heart.

The plot – or, at least, what I can gather from it – is about a British woman named Jessica (Tilda Swinton) who lives in the Colombian city of Medellín as a flower merchant, and is visiting her hospital-bound sister Karen (Agnes Brekke) in Bogotá. One night, she begins hearing a loud boom, which continues to plague her throughout the day, and she sets out to discover where exactly the sound is coming from, and what is actually is.

In terms of concrete plot, that’s really about it. Even then, I’d say it takes up about 40% of the runtime, which is otherwise dedicated to long, stretched-out sequences where nothing happens; the film will stop dead just to show a jazz band performing a never-ending set, and at one point it literally does stop dead during a climax that appears to go on forever. One moment in particular goes on for so long that I had time to stand up, scuttle through the row of seats, walk up the aisle, exit the screen, go into the bathroom, empty my bladder, wash my hands, and then go back into the screen, without the shot or even the positions of the characters ever changing. I can acknowledge that for someone more familiar with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this kind of pacing is commonplace within one of his films, but for the less aware and more casual filmgoer it is such a struggle to get on board with this absolute dead-zone of engagement, that the mind begins to wander about other things than what is actually happening on-screen.

Maybe it’s because there is also very little clarity within the script and direction to guide some of the less intellectual viewers like myself through some of its most basic attributes, that I found this to be a very uninvolving watch. Many of the scenes are shot in one continuous take, often from a few feet away so that the characters and atmosphere can fully dominate the screen, but this just screams of stylistic purpose rather than being something that actively moves the plot along, and it left me feeling even more detached from Tilda Swinton (giving it her all, as usual) and her minimalist journey because I knew next to nothing about who this person is, why they’ve made certain life decisions, and what kind of past they may have had. I can’t even say that this was an emotional or spiritual experience, because so much of what was happening felt so cold and dry in its delivery that it was even harder to care about anything. The only time I expressed any sort of emotion during this film was at the very end, which features something so out of left-field and extraordinarily bizarre that I had no choice but to say out loud, “what in the actual f**k?!” – I imagine that most viewers, whether they’re into this movie or not, will have similar reactions to this particular part of the movie.

Try as I did, I just could not get into this film. I know that a lot of critics are praising this movie, but I don’t think I can muster up enough energy to even say that many good things about it (Tilda Swinton’s good, and it’s a pretty-looking movie, but that’s about it for now). This was a rather rough experience, proving that just because you can inject the pace of an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping into your movie, doesn’t mean that you should. I can understand fans of this director being much more forgiving than I am, but from my own personal standpoint this was honestly one of the most difficult viewing experiences I’ve had lately, just from how slow and painfully dull it was. Apologies to all high-brow film snobs out there, but I just couldn’t do this one.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Memoria is a patience-tester if there ever was one, with those unfamiliar with director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s style and pacing bound to experience a painfully slow, dull and dry film where nothing happens and even less is worth caring about.

Memoria is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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