January 11, 2022 – Art film specialist Tilda Swinton pairs with art film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul to make an art film justifiably called “slow cinema” and “bewildering.” It is filled with those annoying static camera shots where nothing happens for uncomfortably long periods of time, but enough strange things do eventually happen to keep me interested.
Swinton stars as Jessica Holland, a Scottish Woman in the flower business traveling through Columbia where she encounters a random variety of people and situations. The film opens with a very dark static shot of a jumble of poorly-lit shapes which turn out to be bed covers and a window. Suddenly, there is a loud thud, and Jessica wakes up, wondering where the sound came from.
Eventually, we find out where the sound came from, and perhaps why Jessica is the only person who can hear it. The sound happens again and again in the movie. Jessica consults a sound engineer, Hernán Bedoya (played by Juan Pablo Urrego) who, using a movie sound effects library of all things, is able to recreate the sound.
Jessica, who seems to have a great deal of unstructured time on her hands, spends some time lounging around with the young, handsome Bedoya, but she becomes uncomfortable when he suggests a kind of financial partnership with her. Later, when Jessica returns to the sound studio, where she met Bedoya. He has vanished without a trace, and nobody there has ever heard of such a person.
Jessica also visits her sister, Karen (played by Agnes Brekke) and Karen's husband, Juan (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and their son. Jessica visits Karen in a hospital, but later, she meets Karen and her family for dinner at a restaurant, where Karen suddenly seems fine, and Jessica hears the sound again, a sound nobody else can hear.
Jessica visits a doctor, saying she thinks she is going crazy, a reasonable assumption. The doctor (Constanza Gutierrez) tells her the sound is probably a hallucination. The doctor says “In this town there are many people with hallucinations.” Really? Have they checked the water supply for LSD contamination? Jessica goes wandering around at archaeological sites and looks at old bones in museum laboratories. Jessica's superpower is that of a time waster.
In her seemingly random wanderings, she begins hearing the thumping sound more frequently, and seems to be homing in on the source near a creek in a remote area, when she comes across an extremely strange man, Hernán Bedoya (played by Elkin Díaz). Apparently, he is the older version of the younger man she knew as the sound engineer she met a few days earlier. I honestly didn't get this while watching the movie. I thought these two characters were different people who happened to share the same first name.
Anyway, this older version of Bedoya is way stranger than the first one, and seems to have nothing in common with the first one. He says he has never left the remote area where Jessica finds him. Not only that, but he remembers everything, understands the language of howler monkeys, can detect the stories stored in rocks and other inanimate objects, has some kind of telepathic connection to Jessica, and has the ability to die and come back to life. Other than that, he's just a normal kind of guy you see every day.
So, if this old guy is the same as the young guy that Jessica met in a different place, miles away, and this guy never left this remote place where Jessica found him, and he remembers everything, but doesn't remember her, how does that work, exactly? Believe it or not, it kind of all makes sense when you consider the fact there is also an alien spaceship in this movie.
What you've got here is about a half hour's worth of story padded way out into an overstuffed, slow-moving movie that is two and a quarter hours long. Thank God I did not see this in a movie theater. It would have been excruciating. If, at least, the story were presented as a mystery to be solved, it would have been more interesting. Instead, the story is presented as a series of random revelations.
Yet, if you look at the ratings on Metacritic, Rottentomatoes and other critic aggregation sites, this movie ranks very high on the list of 2021 movies. Like the movie itself, I find that to be another mystery, but not one worth solving. This film rates a C.
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