One of the most audacious and idiosyncratic directors working today, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (1970-) has crafted a strikingly singular and unnerving cinematic vision of Thai subjectivity and the contemporary world.
Apichatpong’s approach to cinema is one of bold but cool synthesis, the effect of which is often bizarre and unsettling, particularly for mainstream audiences infatuated with easy notions of realism and narrative “wholeness”. Apichatpong’s breakout film Mysterious Object at Noon – a documentary inspired by the surrealist game of the “exquisite corpse” – aptly sets the stage for the director’s daring yet casually synthetic approach to filmmaking. A multidisciplinary artist who also works in the gallery, Apichatpong’s cinema is notable for its attempts to transcend the boundaries between the corporeal and ethereal, the spiritual and political, the epic and the mundane, the living and the dead. Apichatpong’s films frequently feature states of sleep, reverie, haunting and unconsciousness, meandering between languid, earthy scenes of candid naturalism and basic tenderness and moments of quiet spectacle invoking the oneiric and supernatural. There is nothing “out of the ordinary” when a ghost or god wanders into frame – in Apichatpong’s cinema such incidents are as mundane as eating or walking or sleeping. It would nevertheless also be a mistake to see Apichatpong’s somnambulistic style as merely “personal”: his films openly and even brazenly tackle urgent political questions concerning Thai militarism and the nation’s internal and border conflicts.
This season showcases several of Apichatpong’s most celebrated works (Tropical Malady, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), whilst also incorporating his offbeat productions such as The Adventures of Iron Pussy and a sample of his extensive short-film work.
Presented with the support of Cineteca di Bologna.
Presented with the support of Film Foundation World Cinema Project.
7:00pm UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2010) 114 mins – M
“No one else is making films this exciting and challenging” (Steve Erickson). Apichatpong’s audacious winner of the 2010 Cannes Palme d’Or centres on the last few days of the title character as he is joined by those he has loved and lost and contemplates his karmically charged past lives. Moving fluidly between the living and the dead, reality and dream, this uncanny, serene and truly borderless work is also the final instalment in Apichatpong’s “Primitive” art project exploring the Isan region in northeast Thailand. One of the key films of the 2010s.
35mm print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives by MaoHui Deng
9:05pm BLISSFULLY YOURS
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2002) 125 mins – Unclassified 15 +
This remarkable first fiction feature established Apichatpong’s reputation as one of the most innovative filmmakers to emerge out of Southeast Asia. Defying stylistic categorisation, the film tells the story of a love affair between a Thai nurse and a Burmese illegal immigrant who escape for a romantic picnic in the jungle, followed by an older woman they know. Winner of Un Certain Regard at Cannes, the film stunned critics and audiences with its sensual, highly unusual portrayal of romantic desire and contentment.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Transnational Poet of the New Thai Cinema: Blissfully Yours/Sud Sanaeha by Brett Farmer
7:00pm TROPICAL MALADY
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2004) 118 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Apichatpong’s visionary follow-up to Blissfully Yours is one of the most remarkable and memorable films of the 2000s, firmly positioning him as one of the key auteurs of contemporary cinema. The flirtatious relationship between a soldier and another man transitions into a poetic, symbolic, experiential and ghostly journey in pursuit of a seemingly shapeshifting tiger. The extraordinary use of chiaroscuro lighting transforms the Thai jungle into a definitively cinematic world that can only be experienced on the big screen.
35mm print courtesy of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Tropical Malady by Holger Römers
9:10pm (OTHER)WORDLY DESIRES: THE SHORT FILMS OF APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2005-2014) 93 mins – Unclassified 15 +
This special collection of eight experimental shorts, selected from Apichatpong’s vast catalogue of work, coheres as a medley of audio-visual experiments, poetic images and sonic ideas intertwined to create the cinematic dreamscapes so unique to the artist. Reflecting on ritual and landscape, these films contemplate the enlightening powers of art and cinema, revealing an appreciation for mysterious objects and transcendental moments, where sensations and places are privileged over plots and certainty is eschewed for the pleasures of the unknown.
7:00pm MEKONG HOTEL
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2012) 57 mins Digital DL – Unclassified 15 +
This experimental short feature shifts between fact and fiction as a filmmaker rehearses a movie exploring the bonds between a daughter and her vampiric ghost mother. Loosely based on an earlier project Apichatpong had abandoned titled Ecstasy Garden, the film layers looping existential storytelling, Thai folklore and contemporary political allusions. It’s also a mesmerising depiction of place and a haunting portrait of a hotel on the edge of the swollen Mekong River in northeast Thailand on the border with Laos.
8:10pm MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2000) 83 mins Digital DL – Unclassified 15 +
Apichatpong’s debut feature, an unscripted documentary-fiction hybrid, follows the director and crew as they travel through the Thai countryside asking local residents to contribute to a collective story that is part folklore and part science fiction. The indefinable result is an enigmatic assemblage of avant-garde form and popular iconography highlighting Apichatpong’s career-long exploration of Thai culture and the outer limits of cinematic form.
Digital DL courtesy of the Cineteca di Bologna.
Restored in 2013 by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Austrian Film Museum. Restoration works carried out at the Austrian Film Museum, LISTO laboratory in Vienna, Technicolor Ltd in Bangkok, and Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in close collaboration with Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Pass it on: Mysterious Object at Noon by Kenta McGrath
9:45pm THE ADVENTURES OF IRON PUSSY
Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Michael Shaowanasai (2003) 90 mins Digital DL – Unclassified 15 +
One of contemporary cinema’s most meditative, spiritual directors also produced this unabashedly queer and outlandish lo-fi musical action-comedy. Pussy – a kickboxing drag superheroine and rogue pro-sex-work advocate – is assigned a deep cover special mission to take down a drug ring. Based on characters developed by Bangkok performance artist Shaowanasai, Apichatpong’s audacious and self-consciously trashy parody of ’60s and ’70s
Thai genre films invokes two of the era’s major stars, Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat.