Cannes 2021: Memoria; Paris, 13th District; The Story of My Wife | Festivals & Awards


“Memoria” is a more sterile film than any feature Weerasethakul has made before. You won’t find, as in “Tropical Malady” or “Uncle Boomnee,” such beguiling details as talking simians or a princess apparently having sex with a catfish. “Memoria” avoids even doing much to direct the audience’s eyes and ears.

But there came a point when I synced with the movie’s rhythms. Suddenly I had no idea how many of the film’s 136 minutes had elapsed, had no sense of impatience about what might happen next, and had not the faintest clue which shot would be the last. At a festival, where distractions abound and it’s impossible not to be conscious of the clock ticking, a filmmaker who can shut everything out (at least for me—this kind of experience is subjective) has pulled off a magic trick.

Weerasethakul’s movies have always encouraged a sense of temporal dislocation. (“Blissfully Yours,” his second feature, like this year’s Cannes film “Drive My Car,” saves its opening credits for well into its running time.) And in this case, trying to induce a kind of trance state in viewers makes thematic sense, since “Memoria” concerns a protagonist, Jessica (Tilda Swinton), whose memory is slightly strange. She has a conversation in which she recalls the death of someone she is then told is still alive. At another point, she asks to see a man she knows, but it seems he does not exist—although she’ll hear his name again in a different context. She says she thinks she’s going crazy. “You are,” a man replies. “Me too. It’s not the worst thing to be.”

“Memoria,” shot in Colombia, begins with Jessica being startled by a loud—well, I’d call it a thump, but Jessica is vastly more detailed in her description. It may or may not be the cause of a cascade of car alarms. She visits a sound mixer in the hope of recreating the noise and figuring out what caused it. She is amazingly precise in identifying elements she heard within the sound (concrete, seawater), and the sound man is incredibly adept at recreating it. Whatever it is, Jessica hears it, periodically, wherever she goes.

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