Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is not unknown to the independent scene. He has had previous successes with productions such as Blissfully Yours (2002) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), the last of which won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes film festival. Now with his new film Cemetery of Splendour (2015) about to be released, will his momentum continue?
Cemetery follows a volunteer named Jen who cares for soldiers suffering from an unusual illness which causes them to sleep. As the soldiers rest and the medical staff try and ease their nightmares with certain light and meditation techniques, Jen befriends a young psychic who helps the sleeping soldiers communicate with their family and staff. After a young soldier awakens and befriends Jen, she begins to realise that the hospital sits atop a mythical ancient site, which helps her to have a better understanding of life and love.
After I saw this I walked away in a very particular mood, one I have not felt over a film in a very long time which was utter frustration and anger. I had high expectations for Cemetery after reading previous reviews which holds the film to critical acclaim. I was disappointed at how completely uninterested I became after the first hour. The pace of the film I don’t think I have seen go so slow since Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (2005), which allows the camera to linger on a shot for a unnecessary amount of time.
Although it can be appreciated that the constant spread of the narcolepsy is metaphorical for societal and personal issues, people can interpret that in many different ways. But after the first hour of pretty much nothing, your patience will wear incredibly thin.
To say anything positive, it’s that the cinematography looks great in many scenes. There are especially some very beautiful shots of the comatose patients and their room lit by light tubes that sends the room into a magnificent kaleidoscopic and transcendent mood. However after many scenes like this, with the likes of one camera set-ups that remain static, the pace as mentioned before becomes too unbearable for your own patience and possible sanity.
I’m not going to lie, I really, really wanted to like this film. The reviews have been overly positive and the film is almost being held up as a masterpiece. Other people will walk away with their own perspectives over the films deeper meaning, and I can admire a movie that can make people continue to think about it for days to come. But I really cannot give this film a positive review. The level of anger when the credits rolled was unforgettable. I was praying for those credits after the first hour, it was truly exhausting.
Cemetery of Splendour is released today