(director/writer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul; cinematographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom; editor: Lee Chatametikool; music: César López; cast: Tilda Swinton (Jessica),Elkin Diaz (Hernan), Jeanne Balibar (Agnes Cerkinsky), Juan Pablo Urrego (Young Hernan), Daniel Giménez Cacho (Juan Ospina), Agnes Brekke (Karen Holland), Jerónimo Barón (Mateo Ospina), Constanza Gutiérrez (Doctor Constanza): Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Diana Bustamante, Charles de Meaux: Neon/Match Factory; 2021-Colombia-Thailand-France-Germany-Mexico-Qatar-U.K.-China-Switzerland-in English)
“Examines sound as a key to learning more about the past.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
18th-century scientists speculated that every sound that had ever been produced on Earth was still somewhere out there, because sound never dies. This brings up the possibility that sound might be a physical phenomenon and therefore the voices from the past can be heard with the right receiver, like one with storage capacity to bring them into the present.
Thailand-born filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Cemetery of Splendor”/”Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”) makes his first film outside his native country and his first English-language feature a heady metaphysical one. It’s another of his mesmerizing weird arthouse thrillers. In this one he examines sound as a key to learning more about the past and connecting the past with the modern world. This arcane journey studies such things as sleep, sound, dreams, memory, solitude and the land itself for holding in them the secrets of the past.
The film opens with the Scottish orchid farmer, Jessica (Tilda Swinton), visiting her hospitalized experimental theater member sister Karen (Agnes Brekke) in Bogota, Columbia. Kate’s group is developing a piece about an Amazon jungle tribe called “The Invisible People,” whose elders are believed to keep outsiders away with incantations.
Early in the morning Jessica is awakened by a loud ‘bang’ which lifts her out of her bed. She becomes obsessed by the sound that leaves a ringing in her head, as she tries to pin down where the sound is coming from.
Through her connections at the National University of Colombia, Jessica finds a sound engineer, Hernan (Juan Pablo Urrego), to help her determine what the unknown sound is. She describes it as sounding like a huge ball falling into a container “surrounded by seawater.” For long boring periods, the two inquisitive souls are trying to hear that same sound again by listening to movie audio effects found in a studio.
The unusual plotline seems goofy and hard to fathom that the sound they are looking for can be found within a database of prefab movie sound effects. Nevertheless Weerasethakul goes all serious with this aesthetic connotation but does so in a wry humorous way.
The film hits its most enigmatic, surreal, unsettling moments when Jessica finds herself in the Amazon jungle and has an encounter with an older man named Hernan (Elkin Díaz), who possibly could be the same sound engineer Hernan from the movie sounds sequence earlier in the story.
The pace of the film at this point becomes a crawl, as the horrors of the past in Columbia keep haunting the search.
There’s a philosophizing that goes on and on about the mysterious nature of the world, but without any resolutions.
The film might be goofy but is serious about the following: the power of memory, the belief that there’s a spirit world, and that such things as sound and memory can be found beneath the facades of urban modernity.
This is not a film that should do a big box-office, but should be welcomed by sound engineers and those that dig unusual films that are slow paced.
REVIEWED ON 7/24/2021 GRADE: B