Sunday, March 20, 2016

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new film "Cemetery of Splendor" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 18 - 24

Giving insights into the otherworldly from the experience of the everyday, the films of Apichtapong Weerasethakul collectively watch as somnambulistic cinematic wanderings through the urban centers, outlying rural expanses, and deep jungles that define the Thai landscape. Lingering specters of Thailand's military past haunt the peripheral of the urban and rural lives of it's protagonists, often as contrast to cultural vibrancy and spiritualism of the the natural splendor that surrounds them. Suggestively surreal, hinting at the metaphysical (or as in case "Tropical Malady", direct contact with the spirit world) they both describe the life of the Thai people as they are, as they once were (first chapter of "Syndromes and a Century" for example) and in the more abstract passages, suggesting how they could be, both in the world of the waking and dreaming. The heightened sensuality of his tonal palate defines the whole of the what Senses of Cinema calls, "Transnational Poet of the New Thai Cinema" as well as a personal connection with a shared history, both on screen and in life, as detailed in Cinema-Scope's "Ghost in the Machine: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Letter to Cinema" on the subject of his Cannes Palme d'Or winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". A director who's whole filmography deals in mystic parables couched within modern life, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" may lack wandering animal spirits in the night of the Thai jungle, but it's mixing of the political, historic and the spiritual is told through a literally dreamy central metaphor, "A Shared Memory: Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Cemetery of Splendor".

One of two "Daydream Believers" witnessed at this year's Cannes, Apichatpong teasingly blends the spiritual and the mundane, deadpan humor, and a suggestion of something sublime, all cultivating in "Cemetery of Splendor: A Very Calm Sort of Hysteria". Sleep acting as a mysterious, uneasy bridge between the two worlds, the protagonists lead the viewer into a heightened sensory exercise of hypnotic motion and hushed sound as we observe their ambulations through neon-lit psychedelic jungle and Escher-like mazes of modern shopping complexes. All the while simultaneously turning increasingly Oneiric as it's political inflections sharpen at it's conclusion. In numerous interviews for Mubi, Film Comment and Senses of Cinema the director has spoken of the difficulties of continuing to make his cinema in the escalating atmosphere of political tension and censorship following the 2014 coup d'état. Shot in his home village of Khon Kaen and redolent with locations and memories from childhood, this most recent meditation on war, death and social bonds in rural life will likely be, "A Homeland Swansong: Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Cemetery of Splendor". Told through Jen, a nurse at a temporary military clinic located in the disused primary school of her youth. The dreamlike spell of the "Cemetery of Splendor" infuses her personal quest for healing and spirituality with the soldiers' enigmatic syndrome and the mythic ancient site that lies beneath the hospital. Punctuated by occasional percolating from within, aspects of these political and spiritual tensions rise to the surface of this gentle film, it's atmosphere withholding ominous forbearance. Thai critic Kong Rithdee describes the effect of this undertow in his insider perspective for Cinema-Scope, teasing out the “friction between tranquility and anxiety, between bliss and pain”, the political from the mythic, metaphoric from the metaphysical that characterizes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's most personal of films.