The Scottish actress presented three films in competition at Cannes: ‘Memory’, ‘The French Chronicle’ and ‘The Dead Don’t Die’.
It seemed like a vision: multiform, unpredictable and ethereal. The famous British actress Tilda Swinton, Oscar winner and muse of artists such as Pedro Almodóvar, Sally Potter, Wes Anderson, David Fincher and Luca Guadagnino, incessantly surprised at the last Cannes Film Festival with its many transformations on the big screen, and also with its eclectic looks on the red carpet at the Palacio del Cine. His last movie, Memory, In chronological order of the titles he presented on the Croisette, he closed his long and notable professional presence at the most prestigious French event in the world. This included the first world of The French Dispatch (The French Chronicle) and a passionate talk about the importance of the female gender in the Seventh Art, for the female leadership network Women in Motion.
On Memory, set in a small town in Medellín, Colombia, she plays an English widow (Jéssica) who runs her flower business. During a brief visit to her sister hospitalized in Bogotá, something begins to disturb her to the point of radically changing her life.
The plot, written and directed by the Thai Apichatpong Weerasethakul – nicknamed ‘Joe’ by Swinton herself – boasts an incredible visual and emotional impact. Swinton, who is also its executive producer, chatted with pleasure, in exclusively for THE UNIVERSE, in a lounge of the exclusive Hotel Majestic.
Memory it has a very dissipated rhythm, almost like the effect of a meditation. How was it conceptualized?
We have talked about this movie with Joe for 17 years, although we knew from the beginning that this rhythm would give it that sense of displacement and atmosphere of psychological limbo that we were looking for. We wanted the protagonist to be a foreigner in a place alien to both. We made a list of the countries we had visited and decided that none of these would be the right one. Joe went to the Cartagena Film Festival and suddenly lit up. I very much agreed with the decision to set it up in Colombia. I think the fact of looking for the right place was what helped to give the film the rhythm: a kind of dance between this beat and his traditional style of direction, in the middle of a landscape that manages to maintain this artistic energy.
The movement for me is as interesting or more than the dialogue. Joe is a perfect collaborator in that sense, because he builds a ledge and then analyzes how the characters move within it. That’s when the magic begins, and I, as if I had no form of my own, let myself be shaped.
How did you work with your Spanish for the film? He speaks it very well.
When I was in Spain last year with Pedro Almodóvar everyone laughed at me because I spoke Spanish with a Colombian accent after having rolled Memory. I was happy, since I managed to get my character to speak in a language that he did not know well, despite living there for many years managing his own farm. These moments of silence and my attempts to communicate in Spanish are combined with the desire to create my own character.
Since you are now fluent in Spanish, would you like to produce and star in another film in Latin America?
I’d love to. Our filming in Colombia has been a very deep, vibrant and intense experience. I’d like to go back to the town where we filmed. I admire our local film crew because it is a community that loves cinema, just like me. They are young people so devoted to art that they look like kamikazes.
What was your reaction when you saw the movie for the first time?
He had seen several cuts, but he had never seen it in its entirety and even less on a big screen, until the first in Cannes. I’ve never had a sound system like this, which is central to this story. Jessica becomes obsessed with finding the sound that disturbs her. You have created a dependency on it and your inspiration depends on it. It was a leap of faith, creating a movie around an echo. For me the most tender scene is when Jéssica tries to explain the sound to Hernán (music producer), since it’s like a parallel situation: Joe explaining to me how this sound used to reverberate in his head, and me having to blindly accept this idea to implement it in the construction of my character.
In some way it could be related Memory with a spiritual, shamanistic experience. Have you had a personal experience of spiritual significance?
Planning the conjugation between rhythm and sound was a process of years. Joe suffered for a long time from a kind of Exploding Head Syndrom. when a person suffers from disturbing and unreal sounds in his mind for a few periods of time). It is something inexplicable. It happens just like that, and at the same time it causes insomnia for a long time. In my case, the death of family and friends has caused me a lot of insomnia and created a strong sense of detachment from people. In the film we can see similar states of dislocation linked to death, cases of disturbance that manifest themselves like this.
So, has working on this film helped you process the grief of those close to you?
Yes, personally it has helped me a lot. Also to Joe, who has been sleeping normally since we started filming. One lives the uncertainty that the pain process entails. But for me knowledge is everything. One gets used to it and begins to live with the experience of suffering. This does not mean stagnation or lack of hope. There is a line between being creative and being reactive. Since we started working on Memory I have become less creative and more reactive, which I am happy about. It is the same thing that happens to Jessica in the movie, since she is a very receptive person. And now in this pandemic, this experience becomes even more relevant. We never expected this to happen and that life would change us in this way. But now people may be more predisposed to this slow pace that is experienced in Memory and the detachment that is seen there by their own experiences.
You have worked with such renowned directors, how do you choose them? Or are they choosing you?
It’s a mix. I have been very fortunate because I have had the opportunity to establish a good relationship with filmmakers whose work I know very well. Occasionally I have contacted them directly. In the case of the movie, Joe and I connected with each other and from there our friendship began. The personal chemistry I feel towards a director is what inspires me to work with him. I always try to develop a close bond with the director before the project. This relationship comes first, then the evolution of the film, and finally my character. I am much more immersed in the cinema itself than in acting. I even feel a bit embarrassed when people refer to me as an actress, because it sounds like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not.
Do you have something else on your horizon of movie wishes?
I don’t really believe in target lists, because no list would be long enough for me. But yes I have faith that I will continue to meet very interesting people, and I will continue to develop projects that keep me alive, and in the “memory” of the viewer. (I)
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Exclusive interview: Oscar winner Tilda Swinton wants to record again in Latin America | People | Entertainment