The new film of Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, “Cemetery of Splendour” proves once again that the Thai director we all know, but whose name no one can pronounce and mainly, whose films no one ever wants to watch, is fairly considered a great contemporary auteur.
Before this year’s Cannes Festival program was announced, it was certain that Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery of Splendour” would be in competition, as his first feature film after the 2010 Palme d’Or for “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”.
The film was not in the end selected for the competition section, remaining nonetheless in the official program as part of “Un Certain Regard”, with the Cannes Film Festival artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, not having clearly commented to date on the reasons that led him to this decision; many argue that the Festival is trying in recent years to strengthen its “Un Certain Regard” section with the presence of directors who are of great calibre and already awarded by the Festival.
In a festival, however, where good (and certainly the best) films do not necessarily appear in the competition section, none of the above really matters.
What matters though is that the “Cemetery of Splendour” is a wonderful film, another chapter in Weerasethakul’s idiosyncratic filmography and another somersault on the fine line that separates reality and fantasy, political cinema from personal experiences, the delivery of an entire country to a new way of looking at the world.
Very close to Uncle Boonmee’s theme, “Cemetery of Splendour” takes place in the middle of a forest in the town of Khon Kaen (Apichatpong’s birthplace), where there is a hospital for wounded soldiers suffering from narcolepsy. A middle-aged housewife takes care of one of them, while a psychic is reading his thoughts while the soldier is asleep.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul has never hidden the fact that all of his films talk about Thailand and his new film is the most political one since the military junta is established again in his country adding another historic mistake to a turbulent national history and already leaving open wounds that will require healing in the future.
Perhaps this is why the idea of a hospital and of a number of soldiers who suddenly fall into lethargy seems so shockingly symbolic for a people who has been immersed into an eternal sleep of inaction and non-resistance.
Perhaps this is also why the woman whose leg is shorter than the other and whose love for the soldier under her care is almost maternal, can be seen as Thailand itself. A country that limps on the ruins of a glorious past (the title’s “cemetery of splendour”), wanting to offer her love to a world that will continue to refuse her, asking in a return someone to (literally) lick her wound in one of the most magnificent and liberatingly appalling scenes we have recently seen on the big screen.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinema is deeply poetic, funny (never an erection has been so gracefully innocent as here), melancholic and bitter at the same time, tender like a story that someone reads to a child before sleep. It is also free (as opposed to his country) to travel as a legend among persons who write their own history, in places whose morphology changes depending on how you describe them, with neon lights that in an artistic achievement change colours in accordance with every possible emotional transition. Eventually this is a touching film that in its unregulated and often incomprehensible nature resembles a hallucinogenic trip that is set in motion without you realising it and only ends with the end credits.
It does not matter that “Cemetery of Splendour” is not nominated for this year’s Palme d’Or or if it leaves “Un Certain Regard” without a prize. It’s enough that after five feature films and countless awards (in Cannes and elsewhere), the Thai director with the strange name always starts where he left off with his previous film, remaining equally revolutionary, dreamy, and equally ready to invite and provoke the viewer to look at the world, his country, himself and cinema itself with eyes wide open. As if this is the only way to never forget and stay awake…