Apichatpong Weerasethakul is going to make you slow down and feel something. You don’t have a choice. Early on in the Thai auteur’s latest, Memoria, screening this week in gorgeous 35mm at the Harris Theater, Jessica (Tilda Swinton) and audio engineer Hernan (Juan Pablo Errego) simply sit and listen to a piece of classical music. The camera doesn’t move, not for over three minutes, although it may have been 1, or 10, or 20. In Memoria, time stops.
The industrial machines are constantly thudding, drilling their way into the Earth.
Calling Memoria slow is both a disservice and the understatement of the year. The plot, if one can call it such, revolves around Jessica hearing noises and trying to understand what they are. Specifically, Jessica is a Scot living in the jungles of Colombia, operating a flower business and worrying about her ill sister. She starts to hear a loud boom that no one else can hear.
The sound of running water never stops.
Fundamentally, this is all the movie is about. It’s also about so much more. It’s also about essentially nothing at all. The film is more meditative, a gorgeously rendered opportunity to stop and let go. The film would be beautiful regardless of how you view it; Weerasethakul is a master of landscapes, mixing stunning tableaus with intimate closeups.
Yet, if you love the craft of film, you should run to the Harris this week and catch the 35mm projection. Shooting on physical film has become increasingly rare, as have projectionists able to work a 35mm projector.
"I can't remember the last actual run of a new release on 35mm in Pittsburgh, but it has to be at least 10 years I'm guessing," Harris Theater manager Joseph Morrison tells Pittsburgh City Paper in an email. "So it's a big deal to us! But we're thrilled, and have our work cut out for us."
The switch back to 35mm pays off for Memoria. There’s such a beautiful warmth to every frame, so much character that comes through with every crackle on the screen and every imperfection in the print.
A bus backfires loudly. A man ducks, then sprints away, his PTSD clearly triggered by the loud bang.
I found myself, during various parts of Memoria, spacing out and looking around the Harris. I was noticing the light fixtures, the balcony, the design of the theater. It’s part of the attraction of the film. Some “slow” movies aren’t entertaining enough to keep their audiences’ attention; Memoria wants you to feel a little bit more and think a little bit less.
Late in the film, Jessica meets another man named Hernan. The other Hernan has disappeared, maybe he never existed. This later Hernan is a fish-scaler, a man who says he remembers everything but doesn’t dream. Jessica just goes with it, in a take that lasts over 10 minutes (this one I’m pretty sure I’m actually correct about). We should just go with it too.
“It’s like a rumble … from the core of the Earth.”
For a film non-reliant on dialogue, plot, or really any sort of narrative structure, it's amazing how much Swinton remains the center of the film. Jessica serves as a fish out of water, feeling and finding her way through a foreign land, and exploring a sound that doesn’t make sense. This is a delicate role, one that needs to be emoted and not verbalized, and Swinton nails it. She feels like an alien dropped to Earth and she couldn’t be more at home here. Memoria is transcendental. Just be quiet and listen to it for a bit.
Memoria. Continues through Thu., June 23. Harris Theater. 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $11. trustarts.org