Cemetery Of Splendour film review: a haunting journey

Here’s our review of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery Of Splendour


“Simple things can be magical” stated masterful Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul in a recent interview, and he proves that in his latest film, a haunting journey across the serene and lush backdrop of his home town Khon Kaen, his childhood memories and those of his regular player Jenjira Pongpas.

Weerasethakul doesn’t rely on CGI to create a vibrant world of dreams and nightmares. instead he uses imaginative storytelling, the natural surroundings, an array of colours and fantastical music to whisk the viewer away to a surreal place.

Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) is a volunteer carer working in a makeshift hospital erected in a school built upon an ancient burial ground for royalty, in which soldiers suffering from a mysterious sleeping sickness lie dormant. She is assigned to look after Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), a soldier who in her dreams awakes occasionally for gossip sessions.

She also befriends a psychic and two sisters who are in fact princesses hiding in the bodies of local residents. Pongpas is a captivating presence and her naturalistic performance is a delight to watch as she explores her subconscious meeting peculiar characters.

Weerasethakul’s concerns about his country, its identity and a fabricated history are subtly brought to the surface through striking imagery caught through the lens of talented DOP, Diego Garcia. A majestic sequence from atop a criss-cross of escalators that presents a cycle of consumerism is entrancing.

Weerasethakul isn’t only interested in displaying sublime images though; he also wants the viewer to become a part of his film. He sets up a meditation session which asks the audience to think about their place in the world and open up their eyes to reality regarding poverty.

At one point Weerasethakul cannily places his camera in front of a cinema screen playing violent and sexual content and teasing watchers with an obscured view. Not being able to see the whole picture is both frustrating and intriguing, which neatly points to the crux of what Weerasethakul is articulating through his quietly powerful and curious film.