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Apichatpong Weerasethakul shorts

Posted by martinteller on January 24, 2015

Luminous People shows about a dozen people, perhaps a family, speeding in a boat down the Mekong River, spreading someone’s ashes on the water, and going to the Laos border and back.  On the soundtrack, we hear someone talk about a dream in which he is visited by his dead father.  This is Weerasethakul’s contribution to the omnibus film O Estado do Mundo.  From what I’ve seen by other directors involved — Bing Wang, Chantal Akerman, Pedro Costa — I would assume their segments are equally observant and meditative.  Not a whole lot “happens” here, which should come as no surprise to fans of Weerasethakul (a.k.a. “Joe”).  As he often does, the director is dealing with dualities.  Life and death are peacefully coexisting here… the ceremonial burial and talk of lost loved ones are in harmony with the song the narrator sings, the playful pranks on the boat, the casual discussion of Laotian hip-hop.  It’s quiet and warm, although not especially satisfying in any way.  As omnibus segments often do, it feels like half an idea.  Rating: Good (71)

In Vampire, sponsored by Louis Vuitton for reasons I cannot imagine, Weerasethakul goes in search of the Nok Phii, an extremely rare mythical bird that feeds on the blood of other creatures (including humans).  It’s shot like a documentary, in grainy hand-held footage that is more than likely inspired by The Blair Witch Project.  Joe is a fan of horror movies, and this is one of his most haunting creations.  Most of it is these circles of light from the crew’s headlamps, straining to penetrate the darkness as they lay bait consisting of torn sheets drenched in blood.  When one of the crew agrees to let himself be covered in blood, things get a little creepier.  There is probably some kind of allegorical/political angle to all this (there was some talk of Laotians) but that element eluded me.  I still found it an enjoyably entertaining oddity.  Rating: Very Good (83)

At 57 minutes, Mekong Hotel is a little long to be called a short, but not substantive enough to be a feature.  It concerns a young man and a young woman and the young woman’s mother.  And the young woman is a “pob”, which is some sort of parasitic ghost.  They’re all hanging out in this hotel on the Mekong River.  Also, there are scenes of Joe hanging out with the guitarist who provides the movie’s nearly constant score.  There is some political content, with talk of how the government is handling a flood, and the mother reminiscing about Laotian refugees and about being trained to use a gun.  There are some nice moments — Joe often invites us to languorously drink in a scene for several minutes — and some funny moments and some odd moments, but overall it comes off as too indulgent and low-effort.  From what I can gather, it seems to be Weerasethakul’s attempt to clear out an old script idea.  Uncle Boonmee explores similar territory in a far more rewarding fashion.  Rating: Fair (65)

I’ll let Joe himself describe this last one: “Cactus River is a diary of the time I visited the couple—of the various temperaments of the water and the wind. The flow of the two rivers—Nach and the Mekong, activates my memories of the place where I shot several films. Over many years, this woman whose name was once Jenjira has introduced me to this river, her life, its history, and to her belief about its imminent future.”  Maybe that sounds interesting, all I know is it was a lot of uninteresting black & white footage of a woman by a river (in what appears to be the same location as Mekong Hotel) and a TV screen showing something about cacti.  Hence the title.  Some of the film is sped up, and then there’s a superslow-motion shot of a dude on a skateboard.  None of this made me think about anything, and I got irritated with the oppressive wind noise.  This is the shortest of these four shorts, for which I am grateful because it was by far the least interesting.  Rating: Poor (43)

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