I discovered Apichatpong Weerasethakul in my global art cinema class taught by Dr. Mark Betz. We were shown his film , ‘Syndromes and a century’ and were left quite disoriented at the end of the film. After then, having seen Tropical Malady and Mysterious object at noon , it is only but evident that this filmmaker has his emotional quotient very deeply rooted with his people in Thailand. Apichatpong’s narratives seem to have the lightness of a grasshopper, effortlessly moving from one figment to another, yet , binding all these figments in a close network of emotional ties, which weave the film into a overwhelming mood piece.
While watching his recent short , Ashes, shot using the Lomokino , which premiered at Cannes this year, the most eloquent aspect of the film that struck me was his keen ear to the sounds of memory. The visual aesthetic of the flashy overexposed film lends itself the hazy misty air of transformative contingent recollections. The dog on leash, the ambitious pig in the sty, the sounds of birds in the distance, of rustling palm leaves on a breezy coastal afternoon, of steaming rice in the kitchen , and a stroll in the evening, all these little details are intuitively captured. The film gradually shifts into craftwork when the filmmaker overlays the same ‘home’ footage with digitized aberrational sounds that echo a certain kind of appropriated pulse of technology. Ashes , performs a simple act of placing a finger on your wrist to place your pulse.
A similar pulse ran through his first film, Mysterious Object at Noon, which uses both enacted and documentary style of filmmaking , to present a collage of deeply personal narratives that evolve around myths and folklores of Thailand, and emerge out of a vernacular sensibility . There is a sense of nostalgia in every fragment , a revocation of intimacy and helplessness. The mise en scene has touches of tactile everyday domesticity. The film which explores a narrative based on the game of spontaneous story building , which the surrealists indulged in, therefore , opens up the margins of the film. The film makes room to allow moments of collapse of the control of the camera. The pace of the film is as if the whole two hours of viewing were drowned into a time warp bubble, the heart beats of the audience seem to race beyond the pulse of the filmic experience.
The story of a mysterious object which turns into a mysterious boy who is said to have killed his teacher , gains life, like a local myth, through its renewal and retelling through various people . It turns into a seed to develop different modes of performing the story , while at the same time allowing for spontaneous filmic siestas . The element of magic , of course, is the tiger , which enters the plot towards the end, into the hitherto human story , which pushes the realm of the narrative into becoming a fairy tale, the storytellers being curious and inventive school kids. The tiger finds again an important part to play in his ‘Tropical Malady ‘, again resorting to a dispersed thread of narration of folklore. In ‘Syndromes and a century’, the vast slow camera pan around the different urban and pastoral locations , and elongated time lapses generously given for the spaces themselves to emote and take forward the film’s mood, reflect a keen sensitivity towards spatial emotive topographies , that perhaps could have come from Apichatpong’s primary training as an architect prior to his education in fine arts and films.
His regular video art pieces and shorts, which have been produced religiously over the years , alongside his long features , seem to help keep agile his film craft and inventive fervor. Apichatpong’s cinema seems to resonate with a certain wisdom . A wisdom which is nurtured by the international fraternity and as apparent by the widespread press coverage, is celebrated as a unique coming together of a global and a regional sensibility in the filmmaker.