it or not, the Thai government might have picked the absolute worst place for
its new military clinic. It only just opened, but its future is already in
doubt thanks to the ominous excavation going on around it. In fact, the land in
question holds secrets that date back centuries. Still, as one patient observes
in a rare moment of lucidity, it is a nice place to sleep. Sleep they will in Apichatpong
“Joe” Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of
which screens during the 53rd New York Film Festival.
is no ordinary satellite clinic. The patients here all suffer from a severe
form of narcolepsy, presumably resulting from shellshock, frequently
manifesting in a near catatonic state. They are here to sleep and Jenjira has
joined her old friend (and onetime care-giver) Nurse Tet to volunteer. Along
with Keng the psychic, she will mostly just sit by their bedsides, tending to
their needs should they happen to wake. Despite his unconscious state, she
feels increasingly “synchronized” with the still vital looking Itt. When he
suddenly rouses, he confirms their connection.
there are mildly erotic overtones, their relationship is essentially one of
surrogate mother and son. After all, Jenjira is quite happily married to the
shy but affable American Richard Widner. She devoutly prays for all three of
them, leaving offerings at the shrine of two legendary Laotian princesses. They
so appreciate her efforts, they come alive to visit Jenjira, warning her the
hospital is built atop the burial ground of ancient Thai kings. This is not Poltergeist, but that sort of mixed land
use is usually problematic. However, Weerasethakul maintain an ambiguous
perspective on potential spirit interference with the living, albeit extremely
question, Cemetery is one of Weerasethakul’s
most accessible films to date. Unlike his over-hyped Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,
it is fully stocked with richly developed characters and engaging situations.
This time around, his forays into natural realism are—dare we say it—quite charming.
Yet, there is still that seductive otherworldly vibe and the arresting use of
the surrounding landscape.
cast, led by Weerasethakul regular Jenjira Pongpas Widner, also contributes
remarkably subtle and finely calibrated performances. Pongpas is wonderfully
warm and earthy as her namesake. She develops some fascinatingly ambiguous
chemistry with Banlop Lomnoi’s Itt, whose hesitancy and gentleness is strangely
poignant. As Nurse Tet, Petcharat Chaiburi nicely balances strength and
sensitivity, while Sujittraporn Wongsrikeaw and Bhattaratorn Senkraigul add grace
and a spirit of enjoyment as the goddess princesses.
Sort of like the scene of the catfish ravishing
the princess in Boonmee, Cemetery has a roughly analogous centerpiece
in which attention is lavished on Jenjira’s badly swollen leg. While that was
about all Boonmee had going for it, Cemetery needs no such provocative
indulgences. In fact, it is an unnecessary distraction from the film’s
full-bodied characterizations and redolent sense of place. Despite that misstep
and a noticeable third act slackening, Cemetery is a deeply humanistic and surprisingly satisfying excursion
into the mystical mysteries hidden in everyday plain sight. Highly recommended for
those who appreciate the obliquely fantastical, Cemetery of Splendour screens this Wednesday (9/30) at Alice
Tully Hall and Thursday (10/1) at the Beale Theater, as a Main Slate selection
of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, NYFF '15, Thai Film