More than a feeling | Film reviews | Salt Lake City

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Popular culture is replete with conversations about the disconnect between critics and “average viewers” – and if there was a paradigm for the battlefield in those conversations, it might be Memory. Like previous feature films by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (tropical disease, Uncle Boonmee who can remember his past lives), Memory may feel like a test for those with nasty flashbacks to high school English classes where they were supposed to perform modern poetry. Apichatpong may use storytelling in a way, but his movies aren’t fundamentally plot-driven. What do you do, as a viewer, when a film resists your determination to understand what it is in regards to?

I placed Memory topped my list of the best movies of 2021 – it just hit Salt Lake City on a lengthy “road show” rollout, delayed by COVID – and a second viewing has heightened its magnificence. But my enthusiasm is not a challenge for skeptical viewers to watch something that might leave them perplexed, when I have understood and can thus assert my intellectual superiority. It’s more about acknowledging that there are different ways for films to be films, in the same way that music can move even if it does not tell a story through words, or that a painting is evocative even if it is abstract.

These analogies are relevant in more ways than one, since sound is a crucial element for Memorythe unfolding scenes, as well as the experience of the main character in creative works. The protagonist is Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a British expat living in Colombia who spends time with her sister, Karen (Agnes Brekke), and Karen’s husband, Juan (Daniel Giménez Cacho) while Karen is hospitalized. It is during this period that Jessica begins to hear a strange noise – a loud noise that she initially believes to be nearby construction, but ends up hearing it repeatedly in unexpected places.

For a hot minute, even through the long master shots that don’t seem designed to advance the plot, it’s possible to be tricked into thinking that Memory will have a somewhat conventional narrative momentum: is Jessica hearing something real, or imagining it? If it is real, where does it come from? This notion of sound as a mystery to be solved is reinforced by a sequence in which Jessica is assisted by a sound engineer named Hernán (Juan Pablo Urrego) in an attempt to duplicate the mysterious sound, imbued with the tension we can feel when Jessica flinches. . whenever one of Hernán’s sounds comes close to Son Son. There’s even a feeling, as Jessica and Hernán start spending time together outside the sound studio, that a romance is creeping in. Mystery, romance… conventional movie stuff, right?

Then the narrative, such as it is, changes – and we find ourselves following Jessica into completely new territory, involving another man (also named Hernán) and explorations of memory, death and history. . This second act goes in completely unexpected directions, including a scene that might rank among the most surprising things I’ve seen in a movie in years. There are many possible interpretations as to the purpose of these later scenes – I have a few, possibly involving colonialism, related to earlier scenes where an archaeological team recovers human remains from a construction site – but it seems limited to speak of Memory in terms of whether you “get it” or not. Apichatpong’s films have often involved myths, mysticism, and encounters with the unknown, presented in such a way that it feels like encouragement to be comfortable coexisting with things that cannot be simply explained.

And maybe that’s the bottom line of thinking about movies like Memory that occupy this more abstract artistic space: there’s nothing wrong with ending an experience without feeling like you’ve “solved” it. Apichatpong ends the film with a series of landscapes and skyscapes, meditative moments that seem designed to allow you to gradually come out of his spell, process the experience, and return to the world. There is room for art that simply immerses you in sounds or images that reach the primitive parts of your soul; it’s not an “emperor has no clothes” trick that someone is trying to play on you. Memory is not designed for a plot synopsis or “everything explained” YouTube video. You just feel it in your bones, like a strange sound that shakes you with complacency and takes you somewhere you never expected to go.

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