Sunday, January 24, 2016

Life is but a waking dream

Cemetery of Splendour (2015) - Weerasethakul
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A former school-turned-hospital in Kon Kaen is the main setting for Cemetery of Splendour. A group of soldiers suffer from sleep disorder where they sleep most of the time, each hooked up to a glowing, color changing apparatus which gives you good dreams ("American soldiers used it in Afghanistan"). These giant glowing sticks stand out in a tropical setting like black monolith in 2001. But they are also pretty and give colorful glows, cinematically speaking. A middle aged local volunteer woman, Jen, takes care of a handsome soldier Itt who's suffering from the illness. They are played by Joe's regular, Jenjira Pongpas and Banlop Lomnoi. According to the young medium Keng (another Joe regular, Jarinpattra Rueangram), the ground the hospital is sitting on used to be a cemetery of ancient kings and they are harnessing the souls of these soldiers to fight for them when they are asleep.

Jen and Itt talk when he's awake. They talk about Jen's American husband whom she met on the internet, Itt's desire to leave the army and set up a Taiwanese style mooncake shop, etc. There are the usual, unsubtle yet natural eroticism and scenes of other ordinary bodily functions in Cemetery that you've seen in Joe's other films. They very naturally fit in to the gentle rhythm of the film. If the recent political unrest of the country is addressed in any way in Cemetery, it's regarded, blended within the universe Joe creates - the collective coma of the soldiers, unexplained digging of earth, some hushed government conspiracy theories uttered by characters. But the film feels more personal- like all his films, the film takes place in Isan province, Northwest of Thailand where the director grew up. And like his other films, Cemetery is infused with his memories of the place and myths and legends he grew up with.

'Life is but a waking dream' is much more pronounced in this film than any other weerasethakul films. But he also acknowledges a certain melancholy in resisting to let go earthly desires. Not as boisterous (for Weerasethakul standards) as Uncle Boonmee, but just as touching and beautiful, Cemetery of Splendour doesn't disappoint.