When I saw Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's gloriously magical film "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (previously here) I was smitten. It is a languid, ravishingly beautiful meditation on nature, mortality, and metaphysics. So when I saw in 2015 that he released another film called "Cemetery of Splendor" which debuted in the Un Certain Regard section of that year's Cannes Film Festival, I was already on board. And I finally cycled through the Netflix queue to get to it.
After a group of soldiers who have fallen ill with a strange sleeping sickness get set up in a makeshift hospital, a middle-aged housewife volunteers her services and time to care for them. But the hospital turns out to be in what was once her grade school, triggering long-forgotten memories. She is drawn to one soldier in particluar and in tending to him in his sleep, she begins to have a series of unexplained experiences. As with "Uncle Boonmee," mysterious, otherworldly phenomena exist comfortably alongside our physical world. Everything in "Cemetery of Splendor" is eventually attached to and supported by an unseen layer below. It is an approach to storytellling and film making that is natural to Weerasethakul who grew up in the small village shown in the film. This area of Thailand is heavily influenced by myths, stories, legends, and animism all of which make their way into this film.
Visually stunning, "Cemetery" takes its time with the narrative, pausing to contemplate a ceiling fan or a view out of a window, the way one's mind does when one is daydreaming. In this way, Weerasethakul reminds me of the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (previously here and here) whose camera lingered on rain falling on a tree leaf...there is beauty to be found in simple, static elements. Weerasethakul's Director of Photography Diego Garcia makes the most of natural light both day and night and comes up with a crystal clear sense to the film that is all the more startling given the murky, enigmatic happenings. The director has said that this film "can be a dream of being awake or a reality that is seemingly like a dream."
And I must say that Jenjira Pongpas as the volunteer at the hospital is just a miracle of subtlety and restraint in acting. Her performance is a master class in naturalism and not being aware of the camera, at all. She has only ever worked with Weerasethakul having appeared in nearly every film he's made and they have a special relationship...so much so that he wrote her part based on her real life.
Recommend? Oh yes, absolutely. It is a lovely film, magical, and full of humanity and understanding.