Movie review: ‘Memory’ makes room for silence in Zeitgeist – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — The sounds of praise from Bayfront Festival Park echoed down the hill Friday afternoon as I left the Zeitgeist Zinema. I got in my car and turned off the stereo. As I drove through the streets of Duluth, I became aware of the silent people.

A woman in a frilly dress crouched in a corner, fingers intertwined. A man with a backpack standing in front of an apartment building, looking into the distance. Another man was slowly crossing the street, as if there were no traffic. They all seemed to be listening. What were they listening to? Was it the City on the Hill Christian music festival, or was it the music of the spheres?

That’s the mood “Memoria” left me in. Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest feature film is showing on Zeitgeist until Thursday, after which it may not play anywhere in Minnesota — not in a theater, not on a TV, not on a phone — for a long time. . A home video release is not planned, and the film is only shown in a limited number of locations at any given time, for short periods. The Zeitgeist run is only the second Minnesota appearance for the film, which the Walker Art Center screened three times in June.

The unusual launch strategy isn’t just a gimmick. “Memoria”, both an art installation and a film screening, has an effect on the viewer that could not easily be replicated outside of a theatrical context. Weerasethakul’s rock-steady chamber opens up vast spaces for silence and for sounds beyond.

Tilda Swinton plays Jessica, a Scottish woman living in Colombia. Swinton brings an otherworldly energy to each role, and Jessica is dislocated in multiple ways: it’s never clear what her occupation might be, and she’s free to follow the sounds in her head. No one else in the film hears the occasional crashes that startle Jessica and us. Seemingly sensing a connection between the sounds and an archaeological investigation of ancient remains, Jessica enters the rainforest and meets a hermit (Elkin Diaz) with an unusually vast set of memories.

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As the film progresses, writer-director Weerasethakul deconstructs the apparatus of society. Initially, Jessica continues with a semblance of normality, visiting her sick sister and seeking professional help for the sounds in her own head. Halfway through the film, however, Jessica can barely stand the rhythms of ordinary life, with insistent banging interrupting a fancy restaurant meal.

The solution is silence. As Jessica and the hermit talk, the silences lengthen and time dilates. Screams, whispers and chatter subtly cut through the sounds of rustling leaves and a bubbling stream. The effect, underscored by the hermit’s fragmented explanations, is to make the story audible. What story, exactly, does Jessica need to hear?

Her very presence, as a white British woman in South America, evokes the history of colonialism; the excavation of ancient human remains points to a time not just before European settlement, but before civilization. There is virtually no limit to the layers of human experience that have been lost to memory, and Weerasethakul creates a sense of urgency by suggesting that there is joy and wonder alongside the pain of restoring those layers.

In a verdant rainforest setting, a woman and a man sit together talking near a low table where the man is scaling fish.  Various tools and structures are visible scattered throughout the scene.

Jessica (Tilda Swinton) meets a fish scaler (Elkin Diaz) with a deep memory in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memory.”

Contributed / Neon

“Memory” is a low-key movie, running at 136 minutes with just a hint of plot and no obvious villains. While Jessica eventually finds her transcendence in the woods, the city dwellers she leaves behind aren’t vilified. Everyone she meets seems perfectly nice, and Weerasethakul refrains from drawing damning contrasts in the manner of “Koyaanisqatsi,” Godfrey Reggio’s brilliant but barely subtle 1982 film that suggests mechanical metastasis has thrown our ecosystem out of balance.

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At one point, Jessica stops to listen to a live jazz band playing with warmth and enthusiasm. It’s a throwaway scene, but it complicates the idea that silence itself is a good thing. A character played by Juan Pablo Urrego, who looks like a younger version of the hermit, works as a recording engineer in a music studio. The hermit has not sought isolation out of misanthropy, it seems, quite the contrary.

The hermit does not listen to what he wants to hear, but what he must. The final shots of “Memory” challenge viewers to sit quietly. What story do we need to hear in the land we call home?

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