Cemetery of Splendour (2015)
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Banlop Lomnoi, Jenjira Pongpas, Jarinpattra Rueangram
102min Drama Thailand
Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or in 2010 with his strangely-titled piece of poetic reverie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Cemetery of Splendour premiered at Un Certain Regard in 2015. Taking up the fashionable theme of psychogeography, it is a blissful and serenely spiritual study of a group of soldiers who have fallen ill with sleeping sickness while working on a government building project. Their convalescence is overseen in the tropical surroundings of a “laying in” hospital by the calming presence of elderly volunteer, Jenjira, and a local medium, Keng, who is uses her spiritual powers to heal the soldiers. The women are also visited by the spirits of two Laotian princesses who appear naturally and calmly: dressed as mortal women.
Cemetery works as a clever allegory of the suffering of the Thai people. The twist is that this ground was once the site of an ancient Royal Palace. The spirits of past royals (who also represent the unquiet ghosts of the corrupt Thai nation) are drawing on the energy of the soldiers and using it to fight their own continued battles, causing a generalised sleeping sickness amongst the veterans.
Weerasethakul’s film is beautifully-framed in a series of long and medium shots. On a spiritual level, it serves as a meditation that contemplates the value of harsh western medicine in contrast to the curative powers of touch and silence that assist healing. An atmospheric soundtrack of ambient insect sounds and cicadas lull us into a deep sense of calm, making this an affecting and deeply restorative experience. MT
THE TATE MODERN is currently running a film installation entitled PRIMITIVE 2009
CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR is on general release from 17 JUNE 2016