Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Farewelling Thailand

March 18, 2016
The Palme d’Or winning filmmaker from Thailand was in Sydney to be presented with the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Film for a stunning work he can’t screen in his own country.

His latest work, Cemetery of Splendour, won the Best Film at the 2015 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, but Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul tells FilmInk that will be his last film he makes in his home country due to the political situation.

“I wanted this to be my last film working in Thailand. That’s why I chose [to shoot it in] my home town. It’s almost like a farewell letter.”

Weerasethakul was presented with his Best Film Award this week at Sydney’s Carriageworks as the filmmaker was unable to attend the 9th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, which celebrates excellence in the world’s fastest growing film region, in Brisbane last year.

Anyone familiar with the work of the acclaimed filmmaker – which includes the Palme d’Or winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past lives – will recognise similar themes in his latest feature: the seamless inclusion of mythological references and a layered story that alludes to Thailand’s complex military history.

Cemetery of Splendour.

Cemetery of Splendour.

Cemetery of Splendour unspools in northeast Thailand where soldiers, who are mysteriously falling into sleep comas, are being cared for in a temporary hospital. Overseeing this care unit is Jen (Jenira Pongpas), a lonely housewife, who befriends one of her comatose patients when he wakes up. Through Jen’s story, Weerasethakul delicately explores the growing tensions between the country’s provincial society and its militant government, which has grown more complicated in the wake of the military coup there.

“It came from my fascination with sleeping,” the filmmaker says about the genesis of the film. “Lately with the political situation, you really have to escape and sleeping and dreaming is one of the ways to escape.”

The filmmaker says it’s too risky to try and have the film screened in Thailand due to the political climate.

“It’s impossible to express anything because in Thailand now even some books like 1984 are banned.

“After the Palme d’Or, I’ve been politicised. I’m not into any colour [referring to the colours linked to different political factions], but I’m not neutral so it put me into trouble sometimes. It’s frustrating as the artistic career is about expression and when you feel the need to censor yourself, it’s very difficult.”

As for the future, Weerasethakul says he is focusing his energies on his many art projects, and one of his installations, Home Movie, will be exhibited as part of the Biennale of Sydney, which begins March 18.

“I think they are sometimes the same thing but expressed in different ways,” Weerasethakul says of cinema and his art endeavours, which include installations, experimental videos and stage performances. “They feed off each other. In financial terms, the art world has some relationship with my movies. People who admired my artwork support or even invest in my movie in exchange for an artwork.”

And winning a Palme d’Or doesn’t hurt either? “Not at all,” he smiles.

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