If you hear the argument being made that cinema’s best days are behind us, here’s a compelling two-word counterargument: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The director behind the revelatory Syndromes and a Century (MDFF 2007) and equally mind-expanding Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (MDFF 2011) has meticulously honed his own deeply personal, (literally) meditative, and often mischievous brand of slow cinema. This, his first feature after several years focusing on experimental short-form and installation pieces, offers us the sort of hypnotic and enveloping experiences that only film can deliver.
Cemetery of Splendor stands as a companion piece of sorts to Syndromes, recalling that masterpiece in its setting, narrative, visual palate, and quietly searching tone. In a makeshift hospital in a rural area in the north of Thailand, soldiers stationed at an archeological site suffer from a tropical malady causing sapped strength and coma-like slumber. As a local housewife and a young medium boasting psychic powers form relationships with the men during rare waking moments, we begin to suspect that their enigmatic affliction is rooted in the spiritual history of the land they occupy.
Memory, illness; the collision of age and youth; the role antiquity plays in modern Thai society; the inevitable tendency of the natural world to swallow human civilization: all of Weerasethakul’s pivotal themes are amply present here, circled obsessively and explored as richly as in any prior work. For those who have discovered the expansive, nuanced pleasures of slow cinema, this is another essential dispatch from one of world cinema’s greatest treasures. (Eric Allen Hatch)