SIGHTS AND SOUNDS.

MEMORIA(2021)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has designed a personal travelogue of images and sensations so transporting that MEMORIA becomes an unusual exercise in going beyond the literal title. It isn’t memory alone but rather the journey of feeling displaced as a global traveller, pointing to no particular centre where it all began.

The elegantly propulsive Tilda Swinton masters control over her experiences here, as a mysterious aural element becomes the recurring motif of her insomnia-fuelled realisation. She is an English woman living in Colombia and the mystery of that sound she seems to hear traces her multiple interactions with the people around her, some related to her and others she stumbles along the stretch of her journey.  The director’s tact lies in how well he crafts her solitary moments as well as those definitive interactions, making them humble exchanges where Jessica isn’t another protagonist in a motion picture. In essence, she is a wanderer, explorer of the mysteries of life. Her relationship with these people, even if they last just few minutes, root her firmly as an absorber of what they have to say and share. The ‘sound’ and its source then get offset without occupying an uneven part of this scenario.




She meets her sister(Agnes Brekke) in a restaurant and the latter relates the anecdote of a tribe in the Amazon rainforest known to cast a spell on those enroaching on their sacred land, leading to many unexplained disappearances and even deaths. Her own illness from which she has recuperated gets intrinsically linked with her research on the same tribe even though she is not physically at the location as other capitalist corporations and their representatives. Superstition or a concentrated belief in the unknowable is of primary interest in this particular conversation. Weerasethakul scores by not revealing the exact nature of her illness or her professional background, choosing to foreground the folkloric tone, mythic aura around this native tale.

Secondly, her chance meeting with a doctor( Jeanne Balibar) at the hospital where her sister was admitted previously leads her to the world of anthropology where centuries old fossils are exhumed and probed. Her interest in discovering these intricacies leads her further to a site in the hills where excavation work within a tunnel grips her attention. History and culture hence get coalesced. The past, in the form of myths and legends, subsume the mysteries of a skull in a researchers’ laboratory as well as her exchange with her sister. These two especially aid in foregrounding Jessica as charting an anthropological journey of her own, given she’s not a native of the place she’s in and that the instances heighten the enigma of her own exposure to a ‘boom’ and shrinking auditory effect she is exposed to recurringly. It never, however, becomes an obsession as the present situation occupies her. Again, the lack of a personal background to Jessica becomes intriguing. The timeline here is the immediate present. Ditto that one stirring interaction with a doctor ( Constanza Gutierrez) who references Salvador Dali while delving into the possible causes of Jessica’s disorientation and insomnia.

There is empathy, a natural rhythm and tender concern to the dialogues in this screenplay, extending to Jessica’s meeting with the young sound engineer Hernan(Juan Pablo Urrego) who exposes her to multiple variations of the possible ‘sound’ she’s been rattled by. This scene is a clear standout in the way it is structured, with trickles of tension and discovery for our protagonist.

The world of sounds and sights dominates this narrative but never in the conventional dramatic capacity. Note the use of poetry in two scenes and how music enlivens the proceedings in two other instances.  Its realism is in how beautifully those cadences are captured with the use of natural sound and cinematography. That way, the psychological mysticism of the final half captures our attention like none other. Trauma of a local and an universal nature unfold in the words said and more so felt there.

***

Jessica’s meeting with a man also named Hernan( Elkin Diaz) in the countryside creates the most striking impact for any cinephile. The anthropological odyssey on her part intertwines with his salt of the earth musings on the way he has lived and views the world. The verdure around them, the calmness of nature enveloping them as if in a mutual embrace, fuses the physical reality of their human interaction and humble surroundings with a more metaphysical realm. It’s as if a source of telepathy made them come face to face. It also ties in with how the younger Hernan seems to be found nowhere or isn’t known by anyone around the studio where Jessica visited him. Diaz occupies the maximum running time in MEMORIA and his performance is on another level. Watch as he goes into a state of deep sleep, with his eyes open, as if in a deathly grip or trance for many unbroken minutes. This scene and the abstract nature of the final half run parallel with my viewing of Dea Kulumbegashvili’s BEGINNING and Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ THE ORNITHOLOGIST in the last few days. Which  is why cinephiles need to delve deep into these experiences that commerce-driven cinema can hardly offer to us.

This meeting of two seemingly unknown individuals and the imaginative prowess invested in that mystery, culminating with a spacecraft’s flight from an open space among the wilderness, and the panorama of the landscape and monsoon clouds, make MEMORIA a complex but reflective piece on the way fragments become whole or rudimentary in the telling of tales. The final half psychologically may unnerve and dismantle the stable structure of the film’s many interactions grounded in facts and realism. To me, they added to the element of mystery that began with the ‘sound’.



There’s a point among the final images in which a figure in silhouette, possibly Jessica, is writing while the hilly countryside can be seen from her window. Maybe, MEMORIA is a culmination of her unfinished novel where the real and the metaphysical plane of thoughts coalesce. It’s not about horror, fantasy or plain boxes of genre. It’s about the many unpredictable contours of our imagination. But for me, the humanity of this work arises out of its many interactions and spatial frontiers.



***

CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022)

This is my first foray into discovering David Cronenberg’s cinematic provocations. To me, CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is about ethical dilemmas that have always been the science fiction genre’s propulsive mainstay, whether in text or visual on-screen imagery.

As far as the word ‘provocation’ goes, Cronenberg’s input here doesn’t rely exclusively on gratituous body horror tropes. It is tempered with the way our current fixation with technology and its prophetic prognosis for coming eras dictates our human discourse in the here and now. Be it A.I., sophisticated laser surgery skills, plastic surgery as a veritable empire of anatomical metamorphosis or even the prevalence of our visual crudity, equating misshapen bodies with public spectacles being transmitted from screen to screen in rapid succession. So CRIMES OF THE FUTURE has its blueprint in the here and now and predicates its compelling ideas around a world without pain, where organ donation takes on a transactional value while art becomes, as usual, a means of reaching out. Performance art is of particular sinuous and sinister quality in Cronenberg’s vision.



So the socio-cultural commentary is about a future that takes its vital clues from the present epoch of registering everything in terms of overexposure, be it scientific, quasi-logical concepts, mysteries of the mind or the body as a site of destruction and deconstruction.

I also felt that an appropriate amount of detachment was maintained as regards a cultural understanding where the absence of physical pain and voiding the inner core of compassion generated a clique-like mentality. Grubby sets, unflattering bodies and the erotic underpinning to every surgical act committed to weed out extraneous elements within the anatomy posits a humanity where intimate relations have ceased and a default mode of platonic cohabitation pervades.

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This allegory is complemented by performances that have an icy, detached, clinical sense of things that have been normalized in our own apathetic state. Except for the strange sense of Kristen Stewart’s accent and mannerisms suggesting a Spencer hangover.




But the poignant ramifications of a child’s death makes way for a father’s turmoil, a powerful climactic performance art  where a surgeon’s inner maternal instincts come to the fore while toxic waste is shown to be ingested morally and literally by a populace trading death for constant reinvention. All under the spotlight of high-end technological gimmicks.

Hence, CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is gripping on all these counts. It’s the imagery and its import that is chillingly true the more you think about it, let it linger in your minds.

*****

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