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.
Cemetery of Splendour is a serene and mystical meditation on spiritual connection and dreaming. But Weerasethakul's first feature since 'Uncle Boonmee' will not be for everyone - it will either send you into deep spiritual contemplation, or send you to sleep.
The setting is a makeshift hospice in Thailand for soldiers with Narcalepsy; a sleeping condition in which patients are almost always asleep. Jen, a middle-aged woman with a physical impairment, is assigned to look after one of the soldiers as a volunteer. She rubs cream into his muscles, and takes him out for meals when he is awake. But beneath the ebb and flow of life at the hospice, there are other spiritual forces at play; talk of an ancient cemetery, and the spirits of kings and goddesses.
The film is shot beautifully. The camera stays fixed in wide angle - each scene being a window through which the characters enter and connect, reminiscent of the work of Bela Tarr. I think the camera moved twice the entire film.
Cemetery of Splendour is most definitely a slow burner. I'd go as far as to say that it doesn't really reach any heights of dramatic or narrative tension. The film is much more of an experiential, moody piece that lingers and floats like light sleep. I didn't quite understand it, and I almost fell asleep, but if the film is exploring Narcolepsy, then I think that's the point...
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