In a remote hospital in Thailand, soldiers suffer from a mysterious sleeping sickness. Though the doctors do everything they can to try to help the soldiers with their illness, including an experimental colored light therapy, nothing seems to work; the soldiers only wake for brief periods of time before they eventually fall asleep, often in mid-sentence. Volunteer nurse and housewife Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas) travels to the remote hospital to help the soldiers and eventually finds a connection with Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), a handsome lone soldier whom she “revives” with a bath. She also connects with a young medium (Jarinpattra Rueangram) who help grieving families communicate with the comatose soldiers. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery of Splendour” follows Jenjira’s spiritual journey as she wanders through a memory-space half-awake to her surroundings as she tries to awaken, just like the soldiers with whom she’s charged. Apichatpong uses metaphor to explore the political turmoil of his home land and appropriates dream logic to examine our collective connection with our spiritual ancestors. A subtly powerful film, “Cemetery of Splendour” has won the admiration of critics since its debut at Cannes last year along with many more on the day of its limited release.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Glenn Kenny, The New York Times
Mr. Weerasethakul is probably the most quietly surprising director working today. “Cemetery” is a peaceful but troubled picture — there’s a lot roiling beneath. Its muted, largely naturalistic color palette is a contrast from the highly saturated and lush tones of the last Weerasethakul picture to play in the United States, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or in 2010. The colors and deliberate, assured editing rhythms of “Cemetery” imbue it with a distinctive quality. Shots range in duration between 10 seconds and several minutes; the viewer feels to be floating with the imagery, and when the cutting briefly quickens, a lulling, bobbing motion is simulated. The mood Mr. Weerasethakul conjures is all the more extraordinary when you consider that the movie’s premise, in the hands of almost any other director, would be used to build some kind of horror movie. Read more.
David Ehrlich, Time Out New York
Viewers expecting the mythical pleasures of Weerasethakul’s previous work might be disappointed (there are no red-eyed jungle monsters nor men turning into tigers), but that just makes the film’s detours into the surreal all the more organic and delightful. This is a movie in which the phantoms of history have been unloosed into the air like fireflies escaping through a cracked glass jar, and they buzz around Jenjira and Itt as the pairs bond over dinner and a memorably amusing trip to the movies. (The ridiculous trailer they see for a supernatural melodrama is among the film’s many expressions of Weerasethakul’s cheeky sense of humor, which isn’t above piercing his work’s art-house veneer with a well-timed erection joke.) Delicately placed on a sonic bedrock of chirping birds and distant traffic, “Cemetery of Splendor” is a whisper of a film that can only cast its spell if you let your breathing slow and give yourself over to the urgency of its spectral dimension. And don’t worry if you fall asleep — this is a beautiful movie about the things we can’t see with our eyes open. Read more.
Justin Chang, Variety
Few filmmakers this side of David Lynch are as adept or intuitive as Apichatpong Weerasethakul when it comes to appropriating the language of dreams, which makes it somewhat surprising that “Cemetery of Splendor,” a movie explicitly concerned with sleeping and dreaming, remains firmly embedded in what seems to be a continually waking reality. Those desiring a headlong plunge into the untamed natural world that is Weerasethakul’s sweet spot may feel a bit bereft: With the exception of one baffling, brain-tickling image of an amoeba slowly crawling its way across a cloudy sky, the picture seems inclined not transport us into a bizarre parallel reality, but rather to frame its environment for us in ways that are inherently strange and beguiling. We often return to the clinic at night, when the soldiers are undergoing an experimental treatment using lights that continually change color; the effect, which suggests a gathering of giant, glow-in-the-dark candy canes, is utterly transfixing. Read more.
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
But as much as Joe excels at this peculiar blend of the mundane and the surreal, his best movies introduce an element of danger or at least urgency. “Tropical Malady,” still the filmmaker’s finest hour, radically splits its narrative in two, chasing one of his signature low-key romances with its metaphoric continuation — a wild hunt through the jungle of erotic pursuit. And for as plainly as it presents the existence of a spirit world, the Cannes-winning “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” has flares of dark mystery, embodied by the red-eyed primate specters that stalk its woodland backdrop. “Cemetery Of Splendor,” by contrast, is almost too relaxed, breezing over its most winningly strange passages. (More of the princesses couldn’t have hurt.) All the same, the film succeeds in attuning its audience to a quieter way of life; while a construction crew tears into the land nearby, both unearthing the past and hastening the future, Joe’s characters luxuriate in tranquility. “Hunger for heaven leads to hell,” reads a sign in their backyard — and Joe, who sees as much wonder in wildlife as the afterlife, makes a case for living in the now. Read more.