A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015)

Jenjira: Jenjira Pongpas
Itt: Banlop Lomnoi
Keng: Jarinpatta Rueangram
Nurse Tet: Petcharat Chaiburi
Teng: Sakda Kaewbuadee
Goddess 1: Sujittraporn Wongsrikeaw
Goddess 2: Bhattaratorn Senkraigul
Richard Widner: Richard Abramson

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Screenplay: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cinematography: Diego Garcia
Art direction: Pichan Muangduang
Film editing: Lee Chatametikool

As I said in my brief note about Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), I feel handicapped by my ignorance of Southeast Asian history and culture when I watch Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films. I can appreciate them aesthetically but there are layers of significance hidden to me. Yet the more I watch his films, the more they draw me in, the more they linger in my thoughts, even stray ones when I'm not specifically concerned with trying to comprehend a particular film. His long takes, often with the key characters in the middle distance rather than in closeup, allow things to stray into the frame, the way a hen and her chickens do at one moment. They allow the eye to wander, and to wonder at the details of setting. In another filmmaker these would be distractions, but since Weerasethakul is not urgently concerned with telling a story, the distractions provide texture and surprise. We Westerners are not used to films that force us to contemplate -- I don't think any filmmaker since the art-house heyday of Antonioni and Resnais has so carefully taken the time to give us extended contemplative moments as Weerasethakul does. Is it, I sometimes wonder, the "exotic" quality of his settings that keeps us from boredom as we watch scenes in which nothing much happens?  But enough does happen in Cemetery of Splendor that I'm driven to keep watching and waiting for a theme or even a mood to resolve itself. Sometimes the things that do happen seem gratuitous, as when we watch a group of people in a park by a lake begin to swap places, moving from one bench to another, as in a dance or a game with no discernible rules. Sometimes they're strikingly beautiful, as in the slow dissolve from an Escher-like intersection of escalators to the light poles that stand beside the beds in the hospital. There is a wizardry in Cemetery of Splendor that gives it magic. But then I read that the film is in some ways a commentary on the politics of Thailand, and I'm brought up short by my own ignorance.

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