In Cannes, this summer, the rain that falls like a curtain on the end credits of Memoria caused a sensation. Some critics saw it as a providential shower: initiated into some ancestral magic, Apichatpong Weerasethakul would have made it rain to wash the eyes of the spectators, corrupted by two weeks of brutal exposure to an uninterrupted flow of images. The festival setting, with all that it generates of lyrical enthusiasm and laudatory delirium, can partly explain the almost religious relationship between the work of Weerasethakul (palme d’or in 2010 for Uncle boonmee) and its audience. But only in part.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, the Thai filmmaker and plastic artist has been reinventing, in an animist spirit and with an incredible sense of setting, the balance of power between men and nature. His works overturn our conception of time and space, of noise and silence, of past and present, of shadow and light. Yin and yang, life and death coincide: these are the reincarnations ofUncle boonmee, the soldiers plunged into a mysterious coma of Cemetery of Splendor (2015) or the metamorphoses of Tropical Malady (2004) …
And this is now the case Jessica Holland, the heroine of Memoria, performed by Tilda Swinton. This name was already that of a woman possessed by a tribal spell in Voodoo, a movie of Jacques Tourneur (1943), the name of a zombie. Now, it is in the somewhat grotesque manner of an undead that Swinton walks in Memoria, guided by a sound that only she hears, a sort of big metallic bang whose mystery she will try to unravel during an investigation that will lead her from the streets of Bogota, Colombia, to the jungle. Where does this sound come from? Why does she hear it when she shows memory problems that make her say that she is going crazy? Is it a hallucination or a memory? And does that make a difference?
The skin, the trees, the stones
This last question is essential in the work of Weerasethakul so much his films and his installations flourish on the “periphery of the night” (title of his exhibition in Villeurbanne), in this critical phase of sleep where reality merges with dreams. His job is to extract from limbo this state of unconsciousness close to trance to show the interiority of the living world, a highly spiritual task that produces miracles. Two masterful sequences of Memoria echo its method, its mission. The first has a documentary quality and takes place in the studio: a sound engineer named Herman recreates the noise that haunts Jessica by mixing pre-recorded effects. The second looks like a fairy tale and takes place in the jungle, the director’s familiar enchanted territory. At the edge of a stream, another Herman scales fish. His gestures are slow, unchanging, as if he had been standing there since the dawn of time. Nothing disturbs him, not even the eruption of a woman with spectral pallor who hears voices. And for good reason: he remembers everything. From the past and the future, from its birth and the apocalypse. No doubt he was waiting for his arrival.
A technician, a sorcerer: the self-portrait is schizoid but rather faithfully reflects the aura that emanates from Weerasethakul today. Director, he uses technology to imitate life; poet, he is the custodian of part of the memory of the world. He is like skin, trees or stones. And the rain in all of this? It comes with the clouds, but contrary to what we remember of the projection, it is not visible on the screen: only its noise reaches us while the credits scroll on a black background. The images, we dreamed of them.
Memoria. Released on November 17th. “Periphery of the Night”. IAC de Villeurbanne, until November 28. Kick the Machine Films / Burning Anna Sanders Films / Match Factory Productions / ZDF, Arte and Piano, 2021 / Coup de chApeau
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“Memoria”, a fascinating and organic cinema experience with Tilda Swinton