Set Diary: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, pt. 4
Photo from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Twitter
I was invited to follow the shoot of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria in order to collect material for an upcoming book to be published by Fireflies Press. This included writing a daily diary of the production, from which the following passages are excerpted exclusively in Film Comment, in serialized form with a new entry every afternoon for the next week. Read the series here.
Day 21—Monday, 16 September 2019
In the second half of the film, Jessica and Agnès travel to Pijao, in the western department of Quindío. We’ll be staying here for the remaining four weeks of shooting. A quaint and quiet little town surrounded by tall verdant mountains, it’s a place that feels suspended in time. There is no tourism to speak of and coffee and plantain farming is virtually the only local industry. The buildings are constructed in the traditional bahareque style, their doors and shutters painted in bright colors. Men wear ponchos and sombreros vueltiaos, and frequently ride horses through the street, leaving them tied outside when they go into a shop or a bar, like in a Western. All around the central (and only) plaza are cafés with tables on the sidewalk, where people sit drinking coffee at all times of day, lending the town a laid-back and sociable air.
Our presence is certainly received a lot differently than in Bogotá. There, whenever we were shooting in the streets, the crew had to contend with a uniformly hostile public. The time we fenced off part of a busy downtown square as people were getting off work almost sparked a riot. Today we’ve taken over one of the cafés, blocking the main road out front, and an eager crowd has been spectating from the perimeter of the set throughout. During a shot from across the street, three young boys sneak past the cordon and come sit near the camera. When they don’t get chased away, others follow suit, and soon there’s maybe a dozen children sitting in a line next to Apichatpong. Seeing Elkin, who is a star of Colombian telenovelas, one of them points and excitedly asks, “¿Es Elkin Díaz?”
Happiest of all are the townspeople recruited as extras to sit at the café’s various tables. It’s charming to watch their amused and puzzled expressions as they’re asked to change seats again and again while Apichatpong figures out the composition. When the camera’s rolling, a pair of elderly men really get into their roles, speaking very animatedly and gesticulating wildly; halfway through a take, one gives the other a vigorous slap on the back. Tragically, I’m pretty sure they’re just out of frame.
Day 25—Friday, 20 September 2019
A notable feature of Pijao is the number of dogs roaming about everywhere. Although many are strays, they live in harmony with the townspeople and are even free to walk in and out of the cafés at their leisure. The mayor’s office apparently feeds them daily and washes them every three months, which explains why they’re peculiarly clean and exceedingly friendly, and also speaks of a strong sense of community.
— Fireflies (@fireflies_mag) September 30, 2019
A golden-furred mutt, whom the crew have named Smile on account of his permanently beatific demeanor, has been hanging out on set every day. Tonight, just as a shot of Jessica and Agnès sitting together on the plaza is about to roll, he spontaneously walks over and lays down at their feet. Apichatpong decides to include him in the image and calls action. An hour and ten takes later, he’s still there. And this despite never being fed the arepas—a thicker variant of a tortilla, made from a different type of corn flour and ubiquitous in Colombia—that the actors are eating and were likely his motivation for coming in the first place. Tilda, on the other hand, has put away an impressive quantity. Whereas Jeanne merely nibbled hers during each take, Tilda kept eating with relish regardless of whether the camera was on or not.
In interviews, Tilda always maintains that she doesn’t identify as an actor and it’s been refreshing to ascertain just how far removed she is from the Method cliché: she breaks character after every take to banter with whoever’s nearby, constantly cracks jokes on set, and has a vocal and seemingly bottomless appetite for all things sweet. Her personality, which cannot be distinguished from her practice, is characterized at once by extraordinary focus and a ludic enthusiasm wholly at odds with her customary perception as a stern professional. “I think a lot about Derek Jarman when I’m working with Joe,” she tells me when I broach the topic. “Derek Jarman was my start, he was my school, he was my home. He was no professional. I don’t think Joe’s a professional, so this feels like my comfort zone. I use the word ‘amateur’ as a high compliment, and I honor myself by calling myself an amateur.”
Read more here.