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Tropical Malady

February 9, 2011

Tropical Malady (2004)
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Actors: Banlop Lomnoi, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Udom Promma

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Synopsis: A romance between two men (Banlop Lomnoi and Sakda Kaewbuadee) in Thailand….

Review: The “Emperor’s New Clothes” moral can sometimes come to mind when watching stultifying art cinema. In the case of Apichatpong Weerasethakul however, and in particular this brilliant film, Tropical Malady, the celebrated reputation is deserved, despite Weerasethakul’s work being notoriously opaque and difficult to ‘read’. Pinning a synopsis on Tropical Malady would be doing Weerasethakul a gross disservice, as this is so clearly a film which refutes the conventional paradigms that cinema is usually judged on in terms of narrative, characterisation, themes and politics. At best, the film can be established as a diptych, very loosely defining a ‘relationship’ in two completely opposite ways: one, a conventional(ish) human love story set among the cities and villages of Thailand; the second, is an almost entirely worldless, poetic detour as a soldier submits himself to the fears and wonders of the Thai jungle.

What makes Tropical Malady so wondrous is that Weerasethakul possesses just about the most sensual cinematic gaze of anyone currently in the film world, and he is able to imbue even the most incidental of images and scenes with a kind of hypnotic magic (note the amazing closing sequence of the soldier and the tiger). He is also a master of sound – the most neglected of the film elements – and his cinematic ear is so atune to the natural cadences and rhythms in both the city and the jungle, that his diptych structure in Tropical Malady has not only a narrative and geographic contrast, but a sonic and atmospheric one too. (February 2011)

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