Cemetery of Splendour
History, dreams and contemporary politics coalesce in this gently comic tale from critically acclaimed film and visual artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives).
The director’s hometown in Northeast Thailand provides the backdrop for a group of souls (earthly and otherwise) orbiting a military hospital whose patients are beset with a mass sleeping sickness, while the ground below rages with ancient royal battles.
Weerasethkul regular Jenjira Pongpas stars as Jen, a local woman who spends her days sitting with a lonely sleeping soldier, Itt. Here she also befriends Keng, a young psychic who helps families communicate with their sleeping relatives. The women delve into the dreams of the soldiers and their immediate landscape to reveal unknown histories and transformational memories.
In a scene reminiscent of the Ghost Monkey encounter from Weerasethakul’s Palm D’or winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Jen encounters two beautiful young women who announce that they are ancient deities from the local shrine. They advise that the sleeping sickness is because a cemetery of kings lies beneath the hospital where “the spirits of the dead kings are drawing on the soldiers’ energy to fight their battles. They are still fighting as we speak”.
This fable at the heart of the film offers an indication on why the director suggests this film might be his last in Thailand for the foreseeable future. “Am I an artist when I cannot say honestly? In this film … there are many things I have to revert to something that becomes symbolic, which I cannot say.”
Cemetery of Splendour offers a vivid dream space where the languorous pace and subtle humour pervades the viewing experience to produce a film experience like no other.