Soldiers with a mysterious sleeping sickness are transferred to a temporary clinic in a former school. The memory-filled space becomes a revelatory world for housewife and volunteer Jenjira, as she watches over Itt, a handsome soldier with no family visitors. Jen befriends young medium Keng who uses her psychic powers to help loved ones communicate with the comatose men. Doctors explore ways, including colored light therapy, to ease the mens' troubled dreams. Jen discovers Itt's cryptic notebook of strange writings and blueprint sketches. There may be a connection between the soldiers' enigmatic syndrome and the mythic ancient site that lies beneath the clinic. Magic, healing, romance and dreams are all part of Jen's tender path to a deeper awareness of herself and the world around her.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul had been on my radar after the elusive critical praise for his earlier work that seem fit only for lists like They Shoot Pictures. He doesn't seem to satisfy general audiences in the same way, despite winning at Cannes for Uncle Boonmee. Ostensibly his most personal film, Cemetery of Splendour seemed like a good start. It was certainly an introduction to his ambiguity which Splendour indulges in at every opportunity. It's very rich with its themes, though you have to go with the flow on its spirituality, belief in past lives and superstition, but those themes don't necessarily feel like they string together. More knowledge on Thai politics, history and culture would certainly help to arrive at a concise interpretation, but it does have enough universalities.
There is, however, a fascinating way it contrasts past and present simultaneously. That's its best ambiguous angle. Each shot can be its own individual thought rather than giving myself headaches trying to piece it together. Weerasethakul at least has a wonderful sense of poetic composition and juxtaposition, his choice of a rainbow light aiding him in many senses. But besides the calm and often profound nature of the film, what makes it strike a nerve is the deeply resonating performance from his lead Jenjira Pongpas. She balances humour with empathetic emotion with nuanced ease and anchors the film in her relateability despite her unique situation with her tumurous leg. Cemetery certainly gives a lot to chew on.
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