Latest Review – Cemetery of Splendour [Rak ti Khon Kaen] [LFF] [Official Competition]

Cemetery of Splendour [Rak ti Khon Kaen]

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Distributor: New Wave Films

Year: 2015

Country: Thailand | UK | France

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 122 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Image: Colour

Language: Thai

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In yet another cinematic year filled to the brim with big-budget, CGI-heavy blockbusters, sequels, prequels and adaptations galore, this latest feature from the hugely acclaimed Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul is most certainly an original breath of fresh air that has been severely lacking of late. It is the equivalent of opening the windows on a hot, stuffy summer’s day and allowing that long overdue cool breeze to flow in and filter through.

It is another profound, beguiling and multi-layered work of art from the director behind such works as Tropical Malady (2004), Syndromes and a Century (2006) and the Palme d’Or winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), exploring the recurrent themes of malady, hypnosis, the manipulation of narrative and the blurring of reality, and infused with that trademark dreamlike, somnambulistic aura which has imbued each of his former works.

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 coloured 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.

It is a very still, reflective and contemplative piece, captured entirely in stationary, medium-length takes – no freehand filming here – and mostly prioritising long and mid-range shots over close up images to allow more information in the frame and convey a greater sense of depth and detail. Weerasethakul also chooses to stay away from any form of incidental music, instead relying solely on general ambience and background noise for that added sense of authenticity.

Returning to his home province of Khon Kaen to film for the first time, this melancholic, magic-realist tinged drama is clearly a very personal effort from the director, not simply due to the filming location, but because of the strong allegories and clear metaphoric undertones running through the foundations of the piece. Weerasethakul very cleverly blends a close, personal character study with a subtle exploration of both the military and the political climate of contemporary Thailand, all within this dreamlike spiritual nether running parallel to our own world.

If you are familiar with the director’s previous work then you will appreciate that the unhurried pacing and slow-burning tone render this another feature which commands substantial amounts of patience and attention from the viewer, however if you are willing to invest and allow yourself to be deeply immersed in Weerasethakul’s allegorical cemetery then the rewards are nothing short of sublime.

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