Jan 21, 2008

Apichatpong Now!

Double feature yesterday at the Anthology Film Archives, braving sub zero temperatures to find out that one of my fondest dreams has indeed come true: the venerable Anthology Film Archives now has comfy seats! Very good comfy seats, which means we are going to be patronizing this wonderful temple of cinema much more frequently now that we don't have to worry about an impeding risk of sciatica or neck pain.
The reason for coming out in the Siberian cold was the films of Thai filmmaker Apitchapong Weerasethakul (a name that becomes much easier to remember and pronounce once you see his movies). I had heard marvels about him, but was unfamiliar with his work.
We saw Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century.
In short: he's great: Intimate, tender, human and magical; romantic, erotic, funny and wise. And slow, but the density of the slowness is delicious, like floating in water. Apitchapong does not follow conventional narrative structures, but the stories get told, rambling back and forth between memories and the present, little moments of existence, lived and remembered. Something wondrous always happens. It's not wondrous like in Harry Potter, at 346 millions of dollars the computer generated minute, but it can be a woman in the night with the tail of a tiger or a young Buddhist monk who wants to be DJ.
It is a different way of making movies and of looking at the world through film. One of his concerns is the uneasy, surreal tension between modernity and tradition. In Tropical Malady he tells the story of a gay romance of unrequited love with exquisite tenderness and depth of feeling. The second part of the movie is this amazing folktale of a ghost tiger in the forest, who needs to devour people to bring them into his dream world. It is many things: a metaphor for the passion of unrequited love, or of any love that burns in someone's heart; a retelling of a beautiful myth, the dream of a soldier. It is gorgeously shot in near darkness, in the jungle and it is stunning. and still sinking into me with its dreamlike, wondrous quality.
Syndromes and a Century is also divided in two parts, sort of. The first one takes place in a small provincial hospital and it is light and lovely, almost pastoral. Then the setting is changed to a big hospital in a big city and the same things happen to the same characters (an old buddhist monk complains of being possessed by chickens, among other things), but in this big place things become more impersonal, more detached, more clinical. It is an astounding film that oscillates between the quirky and the meditative, the quotidian and the transcendent.

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