More than fifty times, the industry newspaper Variety counted, the disturbing “bang” can be heard in this film, which assails Jessica every day. At first she is awakened from it, she crosses the nocturnal room and looks out the window. Outside, the parking lot with a dozen cars, their headlights start flashing in fear, the security systems scream, calm is slowly returning. No one else hears Jessica’s bang, just us viewers, a privilege, an insecurity, a stigma. And: pure suspense.
Tilda Swinton is Jessica, she has known director Apichatpong Weerasethakul for many years. “Memoria” is his first film that he did not shoot in his native Thailand, but in Colombia, in Bogotá. I hope, says Swinton, that there will soon be a Scottish Weerasethakul. The director received the jury prize for “Memoria” at Cannes in 2021 – for “Uncle Boonmee remembers his past life” there was the Palme d’Or in 2010.
The heroine suffers from exploding head syndrome, which the director also experienced
Jessica’s bang is a sound that came out of nowhere, without origin, pointing to our uncertain attempts to unravel the mystery of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, both synthetic and natural. He himself has experienced the disturbance of such an intractable fringe, which is Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS), which is more of a nuisance than painfully morbid. These are repetitive noises, inside the head, occurring mainly between sleep and waking, when consciousness is least protected.
Jessica wants to do something about the mysterious phenomenon and visits a sound engineer in his studio, the young Hernán, who artificially recreates the sound with his device, according to his descriptions. “It’s like a huge cement ball, she explains to him, which falls into a metal well surrounded by seawater.” Perception as a form of poetry. What is the size of the cement ball? Jessica separates her hands to accentuate the bang coming out of her mouth. “After that shrinks…” She struggles to get rid of foreign Spanish words, sometimes she has to switch to English. A poetry for which the whole body plays together. Hernán shows her various sound variations, she listens. After Tierra, she asks, “it must sound more down to earth, like a rumbling of the heart of the earth”. Now he shows her a library of cinematic sound effects on his computer, all accurately named and very absurd: “Body meets quilt meets bat.”
Imagination is absolute, such has been the motto of cinema since its inception. Since sound only makes sense in description, a visit to the recording studio is reminiscent of the practice of psychoanalysis, where dreams and their content only take shape in associative and tentative descriptions. Psychoanalytic technique also has a lot to do with poetry, language is not used to name anything exactly.
Bogotá is a bustling city, most shots here are full of people swarming through the frame. The sets are inspired, says Apichatpong Weerasethakul, by the Colombian painter Ever Astudillo, because it brings people and space together. Jessica visits an exhibition with her paintings.
As always with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the film takes an entirely different direction after an hour. A scientist, played by Jeanne Balibar, told Jessica about 6,000-year-old human remains discovered during a tunneling project through the Andes. So Jessica goes to the countryside, and at the edge of a river, she meets a man who is also called Hernán and who is peeling fish. I can’t forget, he says, my memory is overflowing, so he doesn’t watch anything anymore, no more movies, no more TV. He doesn’t even dare to dream, when he sleeps he is lying like a dead man. Time stops.
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Perhaps my most Buddhist film, says Weerasethakul, with its juxtaposition of space and emptiness. It is about subjectivity, in its most subtle form, without one becoming a subject. Memories jump from one to another. Jessica Holland is the name of the young woman in the fantastic ghost film “I walked with a zombie” by Jacques Tourneur – the director is extremely important for Weerasethakul. This Jessica is drawn to the sound of voodoo drums on a Caribbean island, she falls in love with the cult. “I think my Jessica, like Les Tourneurs, doesn’t really exist, she has a surreal dimension that only cinema can give… She is cinema.”
Memory, 2021 – Director, Screenplay: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Camera: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Publisher: Lee Chatametikool. Music: Cesar Lopez. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Agnes Brekke. Port-au-Prince, 136 minutes. Released in theaters May 5, 2022.