Cemetery of Splendour
Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram
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…a playful mix of history, politics, memory and dream…
Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first feature since his Palme d’Or winning, Uncle Boonmee Who Can’t Recall His Past Lives (2010), finds the director returning to his roots in what is his most personal, and narratively linear film to date. Cemetery of Splendour centres on Jen (Jenjira Pongpas), a middle-aged housewife and volunteer at a makeshift hospital situated in a disused school, which Jen attended as a child. Jen watches over and cares for Itt (Banlop Lomnoi) a handsome soldier plagued with a mysterious sleeping sickness. Through a young medium, Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), Jen communicates with Itt, drawing a connection between the soldier’s condition and the spiritual site that lies under the hospital.
At once similar, yet strikingly different to Weerasethakul’s previous films, Cemetery of Splendour is that rare treat – a playful mix of history, politics, memory and dream, interwoven into a humorous synthesis of wakefulness and reverie, switching imperceptivity between the two. Imagery and dialogue move between the ancient and the mundane as Weerasethakul never loses his sense of humour. Although the film will be brandished in the ‘slow-cinema’ tradition, Cemetery never feels like a slog as it washes quietly over you, instantly engaging and thoroughly captivating.
Shot in the director’s hometown using many of the locals, Cemetery explores the rapidly changing social landscape, marked primarily by a strong military presence and encroaching globalisation. Weerasethakul explores these themes using memory – its function and how it’s shaped by experience. Utilising the eye of DOP Diego Garcia, Cemetery is filled with ever-shifting light, both natural and artificial. The neon light therapy used in the hospital extends to the dreams of soldiers. Natural landscapes shift in a similar manner as Jen and Itt shift spatially and temporally in their thoughts.
Both a film of resistance and an openly escapist experience, Cemetery of Splendour envelops you in immediate reverie, pulling you in with its quiet rhythms and cadences, be that of the omnipresent background hum of crickets, or the serene and tender exchanges between Jen and Itt. Weerasethakul’s incandescent heartbeat latches onto you like the childhood spirits he seeks out in the film, leaving you with a childlike sense of joy.