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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — How do you describe a sound? Can you? How can we trust our memories of a sound if we can’t ever recreate it? How can we trust our memories of the words we hear if they are just sounds? How can we ever trust any memory?

These are the questions that the film “Memoria” seeks to ask. Whether it answers any of them would be a question for each individual viewer, with every answer likely as varied and singular as memory itself.

Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Noble Theater will give audiences the opportunity to decipher the film’s quiet mysteries as it screens “Memoria” in a statewide exclusive “roadshow” presentation from Friday, April 29th through Sunday, May 1st.

To describe the premise of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film would be to only barely scratch the surface of the experience that it offers, as the plot is just as fluid and almost frustratingly dreamlike as the environments and concepts with which it plays, but it’s as good a place as any to start.

A Scottish woman (international art-house superstar Tilda Swinton) living in Colombia begins to hear an abrupt, unnerving sound, only very occasionally, and seemingly at random, but the search for its source and its nature begins to consume her and leads her down a path both increasingly disorienting and quietly personal.

Scene from Memoria

Immersive Audio

More than perhaps any other piece of cinema that you may recall, “Memoria” relies on a groundbreaking, head-spinningly detailed and immersive audio mix. Arguably the entire story, impenetrable as it may be, is told through sound and ambience in a way rarely, if ever, experienced at the movies.

“Sound is incredibly important to ‘Memoria,’ maybe even more important than the images,” OKCMOA’s Head of Film Programming Lisa Broad told me. “So it’s essential to experience this film in an environment where the sound can totally envelop you.”

Making a film so reliant on the immersive elements of the theater is obviously risky in the age of home streaming, but Apichatpong is adamant enough about the importance of that experience that he’s made some unique decisions regarding the release of “Memoria.”

“At this point, there’s no plan for the film to be released on streaming services or physical media,” Broad said. “It can only be seen as part of this series of limited theatrical runs in different cities all over the country, which makes each run of the film feel like a special event.”

Interpretive and Cryptic

Though this unique and exclusive experience is one that true fans and appreciators of artful, experimental cinema should rush to, be advised that “Memoria” easily ranks among the most challenging film works in recent memory.

In addition to the largely interpretive and cryptic plot, even the construction of the film itself is difficult, from the quiet, multi-linguistic dialogue, to the relentlessly long takes and almost antagonistic editing that lingers for minutes on static shots, allowing the sounds of the scene to play out at length.

Enraptured viewers will spend much of the runtime waiting nervously to again be startled by the mysterious sound at the most unexpected times, almost like anticipating a jump scare in a horror film, and when revelations eventually come (or do they?) they may be so oblique as to lead you even further from understanding.

All of these almost stubborn elements fit together, however, to form something of subtle, delicate beauty for patient (and quiet!) filmgoers. There has perhaps never been a film experience so dependent on a silent, attentive audience.

International Reach

As Apichatpong’s first film to ever be shot outside his native Thailand, and his first to feature a notable “western” star like Swinton, “Memoria” represents yet another step in the recent trend of Asian film and its makers stepping out into a wider, welcoming international world.

“It’s great to see the increasing interest in Asian cinema and in international cinema more generally,” Broad told me. “I think the success of films like “Drive My Car” and “Parasite,” and also series like “Squid Game,” are encouraging new generations of viewers to seek out films and shows from all over the world. One exciting aspect of Asian cinema is the co-existence of striking, beautifully crafted genre filmmaking with high-end art cinema. There are a number of filmmakers like Bong Joon Ho and Wong Kar Wai that move between or even blend the two.”

With its undeniably dreamlike qualities, and a possible fantasy or sci-fi slant, “Memoria” definitely exists in the space between “genre” filmmaking and the kind of wild, cryptic art-film that American audiences would associate with filmmakers like David Lynch.

Where Lynch is famous for his ability to capture both the comic absurdity and horror of dreams, however, Apichatpong is focused on the mundane, almost boring quality of our dreams, the feeling that, when we’re dreaming, even the strangest or most confusing concept can seem commonplace and easily accepted.

“While Apichatpong is definitely an art film director,” Broad said, “he sometimes includes surreal, sci-fi inspired touches in his films that enhance both their mystery and their universal appeal.”

Make no mistake, “Memoria” is both mysterious and appealing to a staggering level, and any fan of confounding, challenging, and altogether different art should plan to take the leap into memory and dreams this weekend.

Keep your ears open, your mouth shut, and your heart and mind engaged, and you just might hear, or even feel, what “Memoria” has to say about life itself.

OKCMOA presents “Memoria” from writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul in an exclusive, limited roadshow engagement from April 29th through May 1st. For showtimes, tickets, and information, visit okcmoa.com.

Last Updated April 29, 2022, 4:58 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor