Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Cinema of Place

The Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethaku, has made a handful of intensely enigmatic films over the last 8 years. And perhaps equally strange is how languorously beautiful and accessible each of them is. They have a dream logic that rides thrillingly close to the cusp of meaning. They've taken the cinema of place to a new level. His characters inhabit landscapes that are erotically teaming, ritualized, romanticized and about as close to cinematic transcendence as I've enjoyed in a long time. The landscape enjoys as much of the narrative thrust as anything said, or any gesture made.

All his films are split in two, with the first and second parts riffing off each other. The fourth and latest of Weerasethaku's films, Syndromes and a Century, viewed in my bathrobe early this morning while Cathy and Abby were at the grocery store, may be the best of the three, though each, I feel comfortable saying without overstating the case, are masterpieces. Seeing his last film, Tropical Malady, with Cathy during one of its showings at the 2005 Chicago Film Festival, was one of those melt into my seat moments. Syndromes and a Century feels like a culmination of what Weerasethaku's films have been so successfully prospecting. Something both captivated with a highly palpable and becalming sense of place and the stories, both urban and rural, real and folklore, quotidian and enraptured, that unfold there.

A.O. Scott wrote:

It is possible to feel, watching his earlier movies “Blissfully Yours” or “Tropical Malady,” that you just don’t get, on a conscious, cerebral level, what Mr. Weerasethakul is trying to do. Yet at the same time you find yourself moved, even enchanted, by the beautiful, oblique stories unfolding before your eyes.

And Micheal Sicinski really nailed it in the Fall 2007 issue of Cineaste when he wrote:

Apichatpong's films, frequently based on Thai folklore and an exploration of spatial relationships between urban areas and the hinterlands, are among the most formally radical narrative films of the last twenty years, partly because the director is able to display landscape and environment as haptic and experimental, serving to shape not only human consciousness but also the body itself--its social, political, and sexual potentials.

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