*** DEBUG END ***

Film review: Memoria

14 January 2022

Stephen Brown views a contemplative film

Tilda Swinton and Elkin Díaz in Memoria

Tilda Swinton and Elkin Díaz in Memoria

MEMORIA (Cert. PG) is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first film outside his native Thailand. As enchantingly mysterious as his Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Arts, 19 November 2010), this film is set in Colombia. It affirms the director’s Buddhist belief in the transmigration of souls. Here he explores how one particular individual experiences something that nobody else does, but could.

Jessica (Tilda Swinton), who runs a market garden in the Andes, visits Bogotá, where her sister, Karen (Agnes Brekke), is in hospital. Her illness is as puzzling as the odd sounds that Jessica alone hears. Nothing can account for them. Are these premonitions of a changing world, vouchsafed only to Jessica?

An archeological dig occurring in the city brings fresh revelations of past lives. Perhaps it is this that has precipitated the start of a sonic awakening. A friend puts her in touch with Hernán (Juan Pablo Urrego), a student working in a recording studio. She asks him to replicate the sound that she hears in her head. Later, again seeking Hernán, she finds that nobody of that name works there. But, further on, an older man, Hernán (Elkin Diaz), appears. Sheer coincidence, or, in Weerasethakul’s world-view, an instance of reincarnation?

Hernán invokes forgotten, barely understood, primeval memories for Jessica. At the very least, it is another pointer towards realising that our lives are caught up, often unknowingly, in an arcane universe fraught with tantalising conundrums.

The film will remind admiriers of a style made famous by the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu: single, medium-distance shots of people engaging with one another. No close-ups — as if to state that others are never entirely known to us, or that we need to take a step backwards if we are truly to perceive these fellow-travellers through life. When the film eventually leads us into the jungle, is this a sly nod to a past that have neglected — places like The Lost City, for example? Reference is made to The Invisible People, an Amazonian tribe that creates spells to keep others away. Weerasethakul is asking the audience to consider how we distance ourselves and why.

Memoria, by proceeding at a meditative pace, attests powerfully to meaningfulness being all around us — unlike the “boum” sound echoing from the Marabar Caves in E.M. Forster’s A Pasage to India, which represents the emptiness behind all human activity. We need only to stop and listen to what the Spirit is saying to us. Celtic spirituality speaks of thin places where the veil between the natural world and the ethereal is lifted and we experience the divine. If “time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future” (T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets), then the aid to this is memory. It has been called the scribe of the soul.

In the art of rhetoric, the canon of Memoria is considered its handmaid for being a treasury of the soul’s experiences, something on which we should constantly draw, so that the image of God may continue to live in a culture all too prone to deleting what has gone before. Memoria performs a great service in alerting us to this danger.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)