Cemetery Of Splendor


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Cemetery Of Splendour (Rak Ti Khon Kaen), directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
""At the heart of the kingdom there is nothing," it says, but all the fascinating splendour that exists around that gap!" | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Apichatpong Weerasethakul once again hypnotises us with images that are never pretty or ugly, always in-between. The tale of Thailand can be dreamed up by a soldier and a volunteer during a picnic or manifest itself in a mother hen strolling on the porch with her chicks. The changing light of the dream machines is a fascinating filmic device because it allows for the mood to change without much ado. Are we in a desert diner or a waiting room in hell? Cinema is light and Cemetery of Splendour is having its US premiere tonight at the New York Film Festival.

In a make-shift hospital for wounded soldiers in the countryside of Thailand, these men are in a state of permanent sleep. The airy wooden construction used to house a country school. Now, "dream machines" in the form of large, candy cane shaped lamps change color and promise pleasant dreams. A woman, Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner), with a bad leg knits colourful Japanese baby socks and volunteers to keep the soldiers company together with among others a clairvoyant (Jarinpattra Rueangram) and a nurse (Petcharat Chaiburi).

In Western mythology, the devil has a lame foot. Should we be suspicious of Jen, this friendly woman? She is married to an American whom she met online, we find out while she is on a date with the sleeping soldier, a date that includes a visit to a cinema where they watch a horror action movie with blood and coffins.

Is it possible to enter someone's dreams? Are the soldiers now fighting on behalf of the buried kings of yore? A crane makes sand piles and people watch the river at dusk. Past and present, dream and waking state, ancient goddesses and snacking tourists share the same wondrous dimension. With his usual calm and wit regarding traditional magic and unusual supernatural occurrences, Weerasethakul confirms that not only Uncle Boonmee can recall his past lives.

There is a scene I have never seen in a movie before. A man answers the call of nature, crouching in the forest. Torn between looking and not looking, viewers are challenged in what we consider appropriate in cinema. Cream is rubbed on a man's chest at another moment in time. It looks like milky tapioca that turns shiny on the skin, like baby oil.

Women from the neighborhood dance their morning dance in formation by the river on an abandoned tennis court. They are dressed in pink, yellow, and blue suits and it feels as though nothing can ever disturb them from this ritual. The spirits of cheetahs, gibbons and tigers protect them. "At the heart of the kingdom there is nothing," it says, but all the fascinating splendour that exists around that gap!

And then there is a big pink fleshy thing, looking like a jellyfish hippopotamus hybrid, floating in the water, and immobile dinosaurs in front of the library are less reminiscent of Jurassic World than the childhood memory at the start of Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles. Those had Uncle Boonmee's eyes. East and West are invited to collide unperturbed in each viewer's mind in a Cemetery of Splendour.

Reviewed on: 30 Sep 2015
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A housewife tends to a soldier with a mysterious sleeping sickness and begins to experience strange dreams.
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