Cemetery of Splendour, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s newest film was exactly what my mind and body needed after a long-ish week to relieve a little tension. The film exists in the lives of the people supporting a small band of comatose soldiers recovering in a pop-up ward in a classroom in a small village. My only other experience with the director is with Boonmee, a gentle, spiritual film not unlike Cemetery of Splendour.
Jen, a volunteer in the ward with a wide-eyed American husband and legs of unequal length, devoutly worships her religious idols in the hopes of being rewarded with a youthful appearance. The tranquil village hums with the incessant chirps and skrees of invisible insects, chickens and smaller winged creatures walk where they please as the people of this settlement go about their business: attending doctor appointments, visiting the library etc. Jen and the nurses sit aside their wounded patients without much to offer aside from cleaning their bodies, delaying bed sores and talking to ears like one might talk to their growing plants. The doctor, rarely present, oversees installation of coloured light therapy equipment said to fight off bad dreams in the patients; the 6ft hook/candy cane shaped glowing poles bathe the still space in soft hues like those found lighting a quiet 70s drug fuelled chill-out rather than a nightclub.
A young medium, Keng, who can communicate with the men builds bridges between Jen and one particular soldier who Jen, after reading the man’s cryptic notebook, begins to see like the son she never had. Around the same time, Jen learns a potential reason for why the men won’t wake that’s based just as deeply in the realm of the intangible; slowly, Jen, taking what she knows and doesn’t know about life, deliberates her awareness of herself and those around her.
With almost no CGI and no fancy camera work (~3 instances of pan/zoom in the whole film and the rest being still camera shots) Cemetery of Splendour still proves to be a beautiful film. Most shots are composed and contained within the frame, the story is told without something new entering our field of view or leaving it. It’s beauty for me however was not visual but instead truly spiritual, myths and lore exist on the fringes of being real in this film which in somewhere like this small Thai village is fitting whereas in the modern Western world I live in I couldn’t feel less innately connected to what I can’t see.
A truly meditative experience if given the time and energy.