Memoria, the English-language debut of Thai art-film maestro Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a movie in a category of one, but begins and ends as sci-fi. The finale will go undiscussed here. The rest finds Tilda Swinton as a woman on the verge.
She plays a Scottish high-end florist who is living in Colombia when she hears — as do we — a sound. It is loud and strange enough to stop her dead in a Bogotá street. A sound like what? “Like a concrete ball falling into a metal well full of seawater,” she says, which pretty much nails it. Yet if she and we are not quite the only ones who notice — a honking, wailing symphony of car alarms is set off too — most of the city seems oblivious.
And so, in a discombobulated wander, she sets out to track the source. Not since Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) can a detective story have been such a sonic adventure. But the film is a sensory mind-bender all round, hypnotic scenes of grand stillness straddling cinema and installation. A sound engineer is consulted, befriended and mislaid, the film pinpointing how hard it is ever really to describe subjective experience. An archaeologist raises themes of time and decay; a doctor recommends Jesus; a jazz quartet is a sudden, percussive joy.
Rarely less than intriguing, the film transports you more than once to somewhere else entirely, and Swinton is the glue — even if the last act is such slow cinema it all but sets in place.
In UK cinemas from January 14 and on release in the US now