Eleven years after his Palme d’Or, the Thai left the Croisette this year with a Jury Prize for Memoria, a dizzying film inhabited by Tilda Swinton. Interview with “Joe”.
For journalists who struggle to state their name correctly, systematically forgetting a syllable, know that Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul nicknamed himself “Joe”. Of which act. Joe, webbed in 2010 by an ecstatic Tim Burton after the screening of Uncle boonmee, offers a sensory cinema where the story like the characters, are not subject to the dictatorship of a classic dramaturgy. Here, the vibrations are enough to inhabit a frame to take possession of it. To enter a film by the Thai is first of all to accept this pact with the unconscious. Memoria is his first feature film shot outside his native country, in this case here in Colombia, but like at home, everything comes from a spell, borders evaporate. The territory of Memoria it’s Tilda swinton that Joe films as a divine presence. His character is named after a secondary character from Jacques Tourneur’s fantasy thriller, Voodoo (1943): Jessica Holland. Jessica is Scottish, grows orchids. We find her in Bogota, disturbed by a violent noise that she alone could hear: “ BANG! She will therefore try to recreate it in order to grasp its significance and thus explore her own memory. This interview was carried out in the middle of Cannes in a necessarily shiny hotel. But here or elsewhere, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 51, does not depart from his Zen sweetness …
Did the fact of making your film far from Thailand change your approach?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul: All my films are mysteries that reveal themselves to me once made. This one maybe more than the others because I didn’t know the place where it was filmed, nor the language or the history of the country… Somehow, it was a way of welcoming the unknown. Once we start a shoot, things happen and force themselves on you. It is the main character, Jessica, who takes possession of the film here. I had to watch it move, because what interests a filmmaker above all else is the movement of a body.
What is the origin of Memoria ?
With Tilda we had wanted to tour together for many years, but there had to be a story to make things happen. I knew she had seen and loved Tropical Malady (2004), but at the time, I, a young Thai filmmaker, could not imagine working with her. In short, to find the right path, I started from my own experience. During a trip to Colombia, I myself heard an internal noise, a huge “ bang! It happened to me one morning, very early. It wasn’t a sound but rather a sensation that wasn’t particularly painful. In addition to this intriguing experience, the discovery of Colombia and the power of its landscapes, was foundational. How do you tie it all together? Very quickly this idea of memory appeared to me. I was going to follow a character who was going to try to reconstruct hers, or rather to interact with her.
What is the function of memory in your approach as a filmmaker?
I have a very bad memory, I always forget everything. That’s why I make films, to capture something that by nature would escape me. Memory does not obsess me more than that in my daily life, it would even be quite the opposite since I try as much as possible to detach myself from the past. The creative process, however, involves capturing a moment, freezing something and therefore placing it in the past. So there is a kind of internal clash. It remains to find the right way to create something artificial. Everything in the cinema is just an illusion.
When did you get interested in Tilda Swinton?
Since my discovery of Derek Jarman’s films in the 80s and 90s. The film Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992) adaptation of the famous novel by Virginia Woolf, had also greatly impressed me. In fact, that’s about it because since the age of 27, that is to say from the moment I became a director, I no longer go to the cinema. Strangely, the films don’t “speak” to me much, I prefer reading. For Memoria, Tilda is also a producer, so her place in the process was essential. However, she never tried to interfere with my choices. She, for example, agreed to let her hair grow. She also learned to speak Spanish, immersed herself in the space of the film.
We imagine that his involvement was total?
You can’t imagine how great! Tilda lost her father before the shoot. This injury spilled over into the making of the film. So, in the final sequence, we can hear Tilda trying to communicate her father. It was very beautiful and intimate. Very generous of her too.
Was there a full script for the film at the time of filming?
Sure. The film’s budget was not huge so we couldn’t afford to go blindly. Several countries have helped us with the funding. The commissions demanded a script to decide whether they were going to follow us or not. At first, I only had thirty pages but they found it too short. So I reworked. I even had a storyboard and a very precise breakdown of the sequences.
It prevents that Memoria gives an impression of great freedom …
A film is first and foremost a personal gesture. During the editing, the film manages to find its own rhythm. He breathes on his own. A film is a person in its own right, who feels things. Sometimes, the narration of the film is interrupted to take the time to feel things… The cinema allows me to listen to the world, whether it is the sound of cars in the middle of the city, an insect in nature or a simple breath…
Tell us about Jacques Tourneur’s film, Voodoo (1943) which serves as a reference for Memoria ?
Jessica Holland, the name of one of the heroines of Tourneur’s film, is the first to be captivated by an apparently evil force. I observed his way of moving in space guided by the binary rhythm of the percussions. Voodoo is a film that also talks about colonialism, how Westerners seek to appropriate a culture or at least to conform it to theirs. The character of Tilda in Memoria bears the same name, it is a kind of reincarnation. During the film’s official presentation in Cannes, Tilda came dressed in white in reference to the heroine’s outfit from Voodoo…
Memoria of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. With: Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, Daneil Giménez Cacho… 2h16. Released on November 17th.