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Cemetery of Splendour

December 3, 2016

Cemetery of Splendour (2016)
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Actors: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Petcharat Chaiburi

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Synopsis: Two women attend to a large battalion of soldiers who have mysteriously fallen under a sleeping sickness in northern Thailand.

Review: The great Apichatpong Weerasethakul brings his languorous, meditative cinematic sensibility to bear once again in the forested hinterland of northern Thailand. This time, his ‘hook’ revolves around a mysterious sleeping sickness that has beset a corps of soldiers, and the film’s running time dramatises and sensualises the almost absurd scenario of these men, holed up in a makeshift hospital that was once a school – suspended seemingly up among the trees.

If you’ve seen previous Weerasethakul works such as Tropical MaladySyndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, then there is nothing radically new here – in fact, it’s probably his gentlest, least intense film yet. It does almost at times descend into the realm of abstraction and conceptual art, particularly in the surreal sequences of random people bizarrely swapping benches in a country park.

That aside, Weerasethakul’s perpetual insistence on the stillness and purity of the pictorial and aural elements of his framing once again almost becomes the story. Just as the mysterious sleeping sickness forces the soldiers and suffering onlookers to recalibrate their spirit and listen to their “inner drummer”, so as a spectator, we are forced to immerse ourselves into the film’s ambience. Weerasethakul’s preference for medium and long shots almost wills us to detach, to pull back, and to frame the transience of mankind and people politics against the eternal rhythms and properties of nature. (December 2016)

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