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Flix at :48: 'Memoria' is unique and inaccessible

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A film poster for 'Memoria.' A woman lies between two mountains. The poster entirely white and gray.

There's nothing like going to the theater and watching an experimental and cerebral arthouse film. It's an adventurous time for any viewer, because you know you're going to be challenged with something different and unexpected. Good examples of this include The Green Knight (2021) and Under the Skin (2013).

The recently released Memoria is currently playing in select Utah movie theaters and sits somewhere between fascinating and impossible. Tilda Swinton (The French Dispatch, 2012) leads Memoria playing an ordinary woman who finds herself learning personal history, environmental history and the power of memory. While traveling through Colombia, a woman starts noticing a strange abrupt sound only she can hear. As she hears the sound more increasingly, the woman explores its meaning leading to an accidental discovery of past lives, absorbed memories from other people and the amorphous structure of time and history itself.

Memoria is an incredibly quiet, dream-like, philosophical film. The dialogue is sparse, and many scenes are shown in prolonged, still shots creating a well-sustained mood of serious calm mystery. This film is also incredibly unique. I've never seen anything like this before, and it rests comfortably in left field. But it demands a lot of patience from its audience. There's never any concern to explain anything happening or establish a clear context with a chronology of events. It's intentionally left as a heavily conceptual abstract story, and that's what makes it so unique. But that's also what makes it inaccessible for most movie watchers.

The best word I would choose to describe Memoria is, "What?" because that's the word I kept saying in my head while watching it in a dark theater. It's beautifully shot and believably acted, but being so entrenched in the intangible world of mysticism (and maintaining such a subtle vibe of enigmatic mystery) I left the theater thinking Memoria is okay instead of amazing.

This film has been included on many film critics' lists of the best of 2021, and it was Colombia's submission for the Best International Film category at this year's Academy Awards. (It ended up not receiving a nomination.) So it's currently under a prestigious and acclaimed light by most film professionals. But nobody seems to be addressing the burdensome or slightly self-important elements in this film except me. Experimenting with a non-narrative film structure and theoretical subject matter is boldly exciting. But does it have to be so far removed from relatable human experience? Does it have to be so difficult to understand?

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.