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.
Every moment of this film is enjoyable. For much of the movie, it struck me as no more or less than a solid example of the cinema of auteur Arichitapong Weerasthakul. He is, perhaps, the most sincerely and successfully magical-realist artist that cinema has known. The social rhythms seem utterly naturalistic, even when the main character, an old, recently handicapped hospital worker, is having a pleasant chat with ancient deities. As with early Peter Weir, Weerasthakul's natural landscapes are utterly, well, natural yet they seem to suggest a haunting, an otherworldly force that's face is the world, one which may or may not be benevolent. History, for Weerasthakul, is the haunting of the present and future by past lives and past worlds, spectral- beings that traverse and are traversed by the present.
During Cemetery's last scenes I came to think this may be Weerasthakul's most fully realized work. The penultimate shot is extraordinary. The main character stares out at a central square of the village where the film has taken place, which the current government is digging up, presumably to make way for some "modern convenience". Children play over the new ruins like spirits of the future levitating over a present fading into the past. Our lives, our worlds, can only exist atop the ruins and amid the ghosts of the past. Destruction is therefore creation. But that doesn't make destruction, perhaps especially in its contemporary, mechanized form, any less terrifying.
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