She looks, she listens. It is not known why Jessica is there, nor what is in front of her eyes. But we know without any doubt the intensity of what takes place in front of it, the storm which crosses it.
At that point, an hour after the start of the film, we, its viewers, are living on one level in a world that has smoothly established its own rules of operation. A world built with a multiplicity of presences and absences which, together, keep opening up to stories, emotions, memories, sensations.
What is in front of Jessica is not secret, we will see it a little later without surprise: the jazz quartet we heard. This filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, knows the difference between the mediocre mechanics of secrecy and the infinite powers of mystery.
As in all previous films by the author of Uncle boonmee, the Palme d’Or of 2010, and the hypnotic Cemetery of Splendor, Memoria is secret and saturated with mystery.
Whoever does not know his cinema well may have taken a while to enter into a proposal that does not call for unveiling or revelations, but offers to accompany an open mind on a journey of sensations and imagination.
For the first time in twenty years and nine feature films, Joe (as he calls himself) has not filmed in his country, Thailand, nor filmed amateur or semi-professional actors close to him.
Magnetic actress and explosions in her head
With Tilda Swinton, this immense and so singular actress, he walks a path marked out from Bogota to the Colombian forest, a way no doubt of shifting himself, of opening even wider the spaces where his dreams and questions are lodged, where he welcomes the dreams and questions of his spectators, each of them.
At first, in the half-light of a room with veiled windows, as the day had barely dawned, she appeared as a shadow, Jessica. She is, in some ways, a shadow, inhabited by memory and pain following the death of the man she loved.
With Jessica, listen. | New story
She is also a very present, lively, responsive person. And again, the site of a strange phenomenon which becomes, between curse and gag, a sort of rhythmic and sensory counterpoint to the course of the film: she hears explosions, “bangs” that are both deaf and powerful.
Is it in his head? Yes, without a doubt, but what does it mean, “in his head”? Surely not that it wouldn’t exist. Besides, perhaps these explosions really take place, even if no one around seems to notice it.
Medium, Jessica? Yes too, no doubt – later someone will tell her that she is “Like a radio antenna”, perceiving real phenomena to which others are insensitive.
Jessica, inhabited by her mourning and by the disturbing acoustic phenomena that surprise her, walks in a slightly out of phase state as she meets a French archaeologist who studies skeletons from 6,000 years ago, a musician who dreams of Tokyo at the foot of a statue of Copernicus, a young injured woman who may be his sister, or her sister-in-law (the dead man’s sister) and her husband, an insomniac man who tells her he has the same dreams as her, or the same childhood memories, and maybe an alien.
A shared freedom
No more than the specification of family ties or the justification of interactions, the passage from one temporality to another, from one space to another is not accountable to any overhanging authority, to any external logic.
Is the beginning Hernán the same as the older Hernán at the end? Only the final credits suggest it and that is not that important. How can this anecdote told in the past in the first sequences occur in the present in the last ones? What happens happens. The musician’s band was called “The Depth of Delusion”, the depth of illusion.
This freedom that the filmmaker arrogates to himself to share with whoever sees his film is in no way arbitrary. It is born step by step, shot by shot, interior movements carried by a vital and melancholy breath, alongside the one who suffers but has risen and gone out into the world.
Jessica and the young Hernán, musician and sound engineer (Juan Pablo Urrego): what technology to get into the head? The cinema, probably. | New story
The same breath smoothly animates the passage from one place to another. Large modern buildings, an art gallery, an auditorium, a laboratory, a restaurant, the streets of the city, a river, the jungle, an immense tunnel where an impressive construction site takes place are spaces, visual and sound, all inhabited by different vibrations, which never stop composing and recomposing experiences.
These experiences are always very simple. They call up emotions and memories, associations of ideas and invitations to reverie. Joe’s cinema is a sensitive, material, fraternal poetry.
With the “magical” complicity of the actress – but this magic is nothing other than what an actress can do to perfection with the powers of the game – he constantly rearranges perspectives, horizons, fragments of narrations , echoes of films already seen, of stories already heard, of possible dreams.
These same dreams that he invokes, differently, in the very beautiful exhibition still visible for a few days at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Villeurbanne, under the title “Periphery of the Night”.
This process both very embodied – Jessica is there and there, it emanates from Tilda Swinton, magnetic physical presence – and floating gently carries away, thanks to a sense of rhythm which would be as much that of speeds and stasis as that of assemblages of colors, light and sound intensities, seemingly innocuous words shared on a bench or while having a drink.
Jessica and the archaeologist (Jeanne Balibar): touching absence? | New story
We think of this old formula, which makes editing a heartbeat. But “editing” is still too technical a word here, when the composition of the elements that make up the film is organized according to an organic process that is also mysterious. Weerasethakul’s films, this one in particular, unfold in this paradox of being neither continuous nor discontinuous.
Certainly not continues this succession of sequences that no explanation, no narrative logic connects. It will not be said why the sister is in the hospital, where the sound engineer went who was helping Jessica reproduce the noise that haunts her, why she leaves the capital for this small town in the forest, from which comes this man with whom she befriends and who sometimes seems to be absent from her own body. Not to mention phenomena even closer to the “supernatural”.
But there is no supernatural, there is the world, all in one piece and the events of all kinds, rationally explainable or not, which occur there. Including “in our heads”, and in a cinema.
But not at all discontinuous, yet, this smooth and intuitively coherent traffic that connects the large administrative building to the photo exhibition, the wounded dog that has been abandoned and the soldiers guarding the road, the skull of a young girl with holes from the Neolithic –“A sort of ritual perhaps” the voice of Jeanne Balibar hums – and her clasped hands suddenly make tears spring.
Hospitality of emptiness and fullness, on an equal footing
We will say that with the exception of the borderline case of a single sequence shot, a film is always both discontinuous and continuous. But in this respect, Joe’s cinema is indeed an extreme accomplishment, where discontinuity saturates the scenes actually present on the screen, enriches them, sows them.
The film is “full of holes”, but these voids are exactly of the same nature as its “full” ones. Suggestions, ways to both offer and welcome. This extreme benevolence of the work of the direction is not at all a soothing sentimentality, the films are gentle, they are not blind to the horrors of the world.
The mourning, the suffering, the violence of reality are there, it is precisely because of them that it seems to matter decisively to this filmmaker to invent ways of interacting with the world according to others. modalities than those incited by these cruelties and pain.
Ah yes, there is still something else to mention, but which we can not really talk about, that we can only evoke, hoping that everyone, that each can experience it. It’s called beauty. It is everywhere, and under so many manifestations that one cannot (one should not) list it, or even name the translations, under penalty of making it vanish.
Jean-Michel Frodo’s film critics are to be found in the program “Cultural Affinities” by Tewfik Hakem, Saturday from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. on France Culture.
by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
with Tilda Swinton, Elkin Díaz, Juan Pablo Urrego, Jeanne Balibar
Release November 17, 2021
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“Memoria”, a film to be lived and dreamed of, with eyes and mind open