A mutating fiction containing documentary-like scenes – unlike his other films, which sometimes have people playing versions of themselves but would never be confused for docs – the fictional part being written by the doc participants as the movie goes along. There is a teacher named Dogfahr, a crippled alien boy, and lots of transformations.

The woman who gives the film its title:

The last major work I’d never seen by A.W., unless anyone wants to argue for The Adventures of Iron Pussy. It’s unique, but not one of my faves. Why do the closing credits appear 10 minutes before the end of the movie, then just shots of young kids playing? “The woman turned into a tiger”, a precursor to Tropical Malady?

Dennis Lim for Criterion:

Mysterious Object at Noon revels in the myriad ways a story can be transmitted. A performance troupe acts out its segment in a traditional song-and-dance routine. A pair of deaf girls use sign language. Sometimes we watch and listen to the narrators as they concoct new installments; sometimes we see their fabulations dramatized, occasionally with voice-over or intertitles to move things along. The scenario grows at once darker and more absurd as it progresses, its lurid developments living up to the film’s pulpy Thai title, Dogfahr in the Devil’s Hand.

AM/PM (1999, Sarah Morris)

Montage of nicely photographed moments within and above a city (Vegas?), somewhat recalling Broadway By Light with the closeups on signage and unique framings of familiar city objects… “the disorienting world of corporate hotels and casinos which utilise and redefine the spectacle in relation to architecture,” per an official description. Each scene of urban life has its own little MIDI song.


Capital (2000, Sarah Morris)

Opens in a parking lot, then moves to things we don’t associate as much with the word capital – Washington DC pedestrians, police, mail sorting, the newspaper. I assume we see Bill Clinton get out of a helicopter, but the picture quality on my copy is worse than ever so I can’t be positive. Finally an edit from a restaurant called The Prime Rib to a close-up of cash money, that’s the capital I’m talkin’ about. The music changes just as frequently as the other film, but here it’s darker and less dance-beatsy. I preferred Henry Hills’ take, called Money… or I’d gladly rewatch AM/PM with the soundtrack from this one. Sarah has made a bunch more movies since these. Her cinematographer moved on to Leprechaun 6: Back 2 tha Hood and the Teen Wolf TV series.


As The Flames Rose (Joao Rui Guerra da Mata)

A new version of Cocteau’s The Human Voice (a copy of which sits prominently on our protagonist’s nightstand) with excellent photography, theatrical lighting changes and fun greenscreen trickery. The lead (only) actor is João Pedro Rodrigues, Guerra da Mata’s codirector on Last Time I Saw Macao, talking on the phone with a longtime lover soon after their breakup, on the day of a huge (real) 1988 fire in Lisbon that destroyed shops and offices and apartments. Joao watches the news coverage on TV, and sometimes his body or his entire room gets overlaid with flame imagery while he sadly discusses the day’s events and the crumbled relationship with his ex. After hanging up, he puts on a James Blake record (in 1988, ahead of his time).

Mouseover to give Joao a new view from his window:
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Beauty and the Beat (Yann Le Quellec)

Rosalba puts on the red shoes and starts dancing uncontrollably, and I thought for sure there’d be a connection but no, the premise is that she cannot keep from dancing when she hears music, a condition she tries to hide while working as a Paris tour guide. Her driver has a crush on her, invites her on a date, but is obsessed with Northern Soul records. I guess her secret gets out – anyway there’s lots of music and dancing, and that is fine. He was Serge Bozon, director of La France, and she (clearly) is a professional dancer.


Chemin Faisant (Georges Schwizgebel)

Drawings with great texture, the lines transforming into new scenes while rhythmic music plays. I know that sentence would describe thousands of animated shorts, but it’s all I got. “Through paintings that interact on the principle of Russian dolls, we are drawn along the swirling path of the thoughts of a pilgrim, a solitary walker,” says a description online.


Overseas (Suwichakornpong & Somunjarn)

Some handheld followcam action as a young woman in Thailand goes to work as a squid sorter. After work she gets a ride to the police station to report a rape, to obtain a police report for a legal abortion. The cop, who looks to be about 15, is kind of a dick. Codirector Anocha Suwichakornpong made By The Time It Gets Dark, which I heard good things about last year.

I’d heard that A.W. had gone horror with this new mid-length film. Not really – it’s a slow-moving movie where a few hotel residents coexist with flesh-eating ghosts, or perhaps everyone in the movie is a ghost since the hotel feels abandoned, even when they are around. I found it overall less exciting/entrancing than his other movies.

Featuring Jen and Tong from Uncle Boonmee, with more talk of borders and immigrants, and discussion of last year’s major flooding in Thailand. I like the music, a long stretch of solo acoustic guitar. We see the musician at the beginning, and again near the middle (an intermission?). A.W. seems to want scenes to last after their meaningful dialogue has ended, because he’ll fade out conversations and let us listen to the guitar for a minute while the actors keep talking, unheard.

When the movie seems to have a story near the beginning, Tong (yes, same character name) is telling a girl called Phon that his dog seems to have been partly devoured by a pob (ghost). Phon and her mom Jen are revealed to be pobs. A guy named Masato sees his friend eaten by Jen, but he might have been dreaming this.

Later, Masato is a ghost himself, talking to Phon as if a lifetime has passed since the previous few scenes – then he’s wearing a machine on his head that allows his spirit to travel outside his body. It ends with an overlong shot of jet-skis on the river. I’m missing something major since this was nominated for a “best documentary” award.

AW with the guitarist, giving credence to the documentary theory:

E. Kohn:

According to the director, Mekong Hotel takes its inspiration from a story Weerasethakul originally wrote for a movie called Ecstasy Garden… [which] involved an alien vampire ghost who also happens to be the mother of a young woman unaware of her supernatural lineage… the mother’s appetite gets the best of her and she devours her kin in the midst of the younger woman’s romancing of a local teen boy. Mekong Hotel sort of follows this trajectory without exactly spelling it out; The movie contains scenes of rehearsals for Ecstasy Garden in the bedrooms and balcony of the titular hotel in northeastern Thailand.

After Syndromes and Uncle Boonmee I thought okay, now I’ve got a handle on this Weerasethakul fellow, got a general idea what his movies are like. This one proved me wrong. It’s got the long static shots, and scenes where characters don’t seem to be doing or thinking much, but it has more of these than the others (maybe not more than Tropical Malady, which I haven’t seen since it came out). One of those movies with a slow, slow build-up to a transcendent finale, though it doesn’t feel that way while you’re watching it.

Orn’s hands:

Orn (an older woman), Roong (younger woman) and Min (illegal immigrant pretending to be mute) are the leads. No exposition, so it takes me the first 45 minutes to figure out their names and what they do and how they know each other, more or less. Min and Roong go on a trip into the forest then suddenly, a pop song and the opening titles – halfway through the movie. And now we can hear his thoughts.

Min and Roong:

Orn and some man (not her husband?) also escape into the forest, and much explicit sex follows. Orn seems to be in trouble then – her man chases motorbike thieves off-camera and we hear a gunshot, which she does not investigate. She stumbles across the other couple and they manage to have a damned nice time splashing in the river, before drying their clothes, dumping their litter (Orn chucks it right into the river) and heading home. Weirdly peaceful/happy film.

Roong (actress/character) also appeared in Uncle Boonmee – I don’t remember her, but it’s sometime after the funeral – and Orn appeared in Luminous People.

Min’s drawing:

NY Times with more specific insight: “There’s a suggestion that Roong is a member of the Karen ethnic group, a hill tribe people who live in northern Thailand and eastern Burma and have been involved in human-rights struggles with both countries. Like Min, whose skin rash probably developed after he hid from the police in a septic tank, she enters the forest like a refugee.”

Right after I read about his trilogy, a Glawogger film opens in my neighborhood, so the wife and I went on a date to see his whore movie. There are interviews with the participants, but mostly it’s an immersive thing, you figure out how the whoring works in each region by fly-on-the-walling it. But M.G.’s great innovation is to produce a verite/interview doc with killer camerawork and sound design. You sometimes get curious framing or a decent music score in a doc, but usually the serious documentarian’s stylistic presence is felt through editing. Not anymore, as the weird vibes of CocoRosie swirl through a surprisingly elegant movie about prostitutes in increasingly desperate conditions.

First Thailand: the girls have home lives and ideas about what they’d like to do post-prostitution. Their brothel advertises, accepts credit cards and employs a woman who acts like a den mother. Then Bangladesh, a sharp step down in living conditions, as kids are sold to live and work in a complex they’ll never afford to leave. Finally Mexico, where it’s every girl for herself, with no supervision, a desperate, dangerous-seeming atmosphere, and enough of a who-gives-a-fuck attitude that the filmmaker is allowed inside to watch some whoring in action: sadness for everyone involved.

Katy and I discussed the movie for like ninety minutes, but that was a month ago, so I cannot provide a summary.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Thriving on contradiction and observational curiosity as usual, Glawogger still resolutely rejects social cause-pandering, but scratches for something deeper by contrasting the rituals of love (for sale) in three different cultures, religions and economies: a look not just at prostitution, but the relationships between men and women in contemporary society that yields telling and ambivalent insights.

This was to be the U.S. premiere with director in attendance until the stupid New York Film Festival stole him away. Still, third U.S. screening ever for a top-shelf auteur’s new Cannes-winning feature ain’t bad for Emory. Too bad they couldn’t drum up more interest – maybe 40 people in attendance. Too bad it played from DVD (in a room with a 35mm projector), also. Atlanta film culture sucks.

When I saw Tropical Malady I fell for the atmosphere (there wasn’t much else to that movie but atmosphere), the sounds, the magic and the jungle. Syndromes and a Century added slow, quizzical camera moves and characters with shifting identities. So this one was the best of both worlds, like a small set of Syndromes characters plopped into Malady’s magical forest, still feeling more like an original vision than a retread.

Boonmee runs a farm in the country, has a personal nurse (an immigrant, possibly illegal, from Laos) to tend to his kidney problems. Jen (sister of B’s late wife) and Tong (a young relative, maybe a nephew) come to visit from the city. It’s a peaceful tour around the farm until Boonmee’s wife Huay materializes at the dinner table, and then his son Boonsong emerges from the forest. Boonsong had been lost to the family for many years, having run into the forest to start a family with the monkey ghosts and apparently become one himself. Of course all this is strange, but only Boonmee realizes his family has returned because he is about to die, so the next day he tries convincing Jen to move to the farm. Finally Huay leads the three (Boonsong has left) into the jungle, and into a giant cave, where she drains her husband’s kidneys one final time. At the funeral Tong is made a temporary monk, but is uncomfortable so he visits Jen’s hotel room where she’s counting gift money with her daughter, and takes Jen out to get some food. But after they get up from the bed and start to leave the room, they also remain on the bed watching TV – a final bonkers scene in case the audience got too complacent after Boonmee’s death.

Unless it happened when I left to use the bathroom, Boonmee never vocally recalled his past lives, but there are unexplained scenes which might refer to them. The movie opens with a cow (NYFF says it’s a water buffalo) snapping its rope and lumbering into the forest, maybe glimpsing a monkey ghost before being retrieved by its keeper. Late in the film there’s a photo montage of soldiers who apparently capture a gorilla. And in the middle there’s a scene with a princess stopping at a waterfall on her way through the forest. She intends a tryst with one of her servants (seemingly not their first) but drives him away, accusing him of loving only her status, not her beauty. Then she peers into the lake and sees herself beautiful beneath the water, wades in, dropping all her jewelry, and has sex with a flattering catfish. Was Boonmee the catfish? Did his hookup with the princess provide the bad karma that led to his kidney ailment?

I knew I recognized Tong, but didn’t realize he played the monk in Syndromes and a Century. That’s interesting, since he’s play-acting as a monk in this movie. He was supposed to only stay a few days but ditched on the first night, showering and changing into his street clothes at Jen’s place. In Syndromes, the monk wanted to be a DJ, and denied another character’s story of reincarnation. Before that, the same actor played a character named Tong in Tropical Malady – a definite thread through Weerasethakul’s last three features, even if recognizing that thread doesn’t clear up any of their mysteries.

Watched again summer 2011 with Jimmy, this time on handsome 35mm at Cinefest – lovely! I’m sure that photo montage with the soldiers/gorilla and the incongruent voiceover is important, given that it comes right before (or during) Boonmee’s death, but still can’t figure what it means.

A.W. says that parts (the cheap gorilla suit?) were inspired by classic Thai TV and cinema, that his father died of kidney failure, and that there are plenty of deleted scenes with the princess that he hopes will be on the DVD.

I don’t really know what happened or what it all meant, but I know I enjoyed every moment of this movie. Strange how that can happen, and it’s more rare than I would think. It’s a LOT funnier than Tropical Malady, which was unexpected. That short I watched a few weeks ago, Letter to Uncle Boonmee, prepared me well for Syndromes, which had its share of lush trees and repeated action. Halfway through, the movie appears to start over (do all of AW’s movies start over halfway through?) with doctors Nohng and Toey going through an interview scene they’ve already played out, but in a new setting. Anyway, I’m not going to analyze and read about the movie all night long, just leave this placeholder for myself to watch it again sometime.

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Part of that Mozart festival that I read about four years ago in a magazine while standing in line at the airport. Sticks in my mind very well for some reason… I believe Opera Jawa was mentioned in the same article. Too bad I watched Opera Jawa as a low-res video projection and Syndromes on a crappy interlaced DVD with burned-in subs. I hope standard-def video dies pretty soon.

Ah yes, here’s A.W. in a Criticine interview talking about the Mozart thing:
“It is funded by Austria. It does not have to be about Mozart, but it has to have the spirit of Mozart. I see his music to be about miracles and its connection to everyday life. My film will look back at the past in order to see into the future. Just people living life, inhaling and exhaling, meeting each other—these are already miracles. It’s a film about beauty.”

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I’m leaning heavily on Grunes these days… his nice intro:

Thai writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has said that Sang sattawat is a tale of two trees representing his doctor-parents, one on the grounds of a rural hospital in the 1970s, the other on the grounds of an urban hospital in the present day. The film is divided into two parts—the bifurcated structure begging a series of questions, including: What is the present without the past? city without the country? one parent without the other? One gauge of the success of this film, which is full of talk about reincarnation, is our sense that the breeze animating one tree is the same as the breeze, eternal, animating the other.

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So there’s a monk (above, played by a lead actor from Tropical Malady) and his dentist (Dr. Ple), a flower breeder named Noom and his girl Pa Jane. The interview participants Nohng and Toey must represent A.W.’s parents, but as M. Koresky puts it, “if we’re truly seeing some version of the meeting between Apichatpong’s mother and father, then the director is much more interested in the settings surrounding them and the forces controlling them—architecture, nature, medicine.” Stories are told which take over the movie; the sidetracks become the new main tracks. There’s possibly a fantasy scene or two, a flashback or flash-forward, and gentle talk of philosophy and love. And trees.

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An exercise session in the park cuts to credits (including one for “ringtone composer”) with loony upbeat music, giving the giddy impression that you’ve just watched a madcap comedy. Maybe you have. A.W. seems to have no regard for familiar storytelling or filmmaking conventions, so maybe besides the sex jokes in the dialogue the form itself was meant to be humorous.

Movies that open with a rape scene have a lot of catching up to do. Then two dead guys floating in a pond. These events bookend a minutes-long tracking shot through the woods. Dead guys could be the rapists if we were going in circles. Sets up a movie in which I’m never quite sure if we’re going in circles, especially when traveling these woods.

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Nop is a photographer, married to May who works in an office and sleeps with her boss (and never with Nop). Nop is briefly seen shooting an interview with someone talking about spirits. Now we’ve got a disorienting forest, sex, death and vague mention of spirits. That’s all the answers we’re ever gonna get out of this movie – no big final scene where all the mystery is explained. If I’d read what I’m writing now before watching the movie I’d think it’d remind me of K. Kurosawa’s Charisma, but while watching it, didn’t remind me of nothing. I also tried to draw Tropical Malady connections (couples and spirits in Thai forests) but that didn’t work either. Best I’ve got is Antichrist. A couple in trouble retreats to the forest, ends up permanently changed by supernatural events and only one makes it back home (not to mention a sex-upon-tree-roots shot, below, that seemed directly related).

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May likes her cellphone, takes sleeping pills, does anything to avoid Nop, but searches for him frantically when he goes missing in the woods. She’s taken home by her boss, where she finds Nop the next morning, sleeping on the couch, acting bizarre, obsessed with plants and consuming only water. Back to the forest to attack a mystical tree with a machete, Nop is in the woods too, tells her and the boss to leave. Or, he tells the boss to leave… May is unconscious at this point, since she spends half the movie getting knocked out or fainting or sleeping through important events. Was Nop ever really back home or has he been in the woods this whole time? Is he walking the forest in his pajamas or a naked and helpless captive inside a hollow tree? What exactly is the naked nymph doing to him? This would be a good time to know more about Thai mythology.

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Wikipedia says it’s a Greek thing, that they’re female personifications of nature, tied to a specific location. Not much help elsewhere… Twitch says the film is slow to a fault and calls it “the least commercial film of Ratanaruang’s career,” Ion says it’s “deeply rooted in non-discourse.”

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Pen-Ek himself: “It’s more of a mystery than a horror story. The filmmakers have sided with the ghost in this film, therefore the humans in the film are scarier than the ghost. … I am preoccupied with bad relationships and lonely people,” and about his change in style before shooting Last Life in the Universe and apparently continuing today, “I wanted there to be no story – I wanted to film mood.”

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