For my history themed week, I’m focusing on a couple more films which are somewhat tangential to history, both made by a Ukrainian filmmaker. The Trial takes footage from the 1930s and uses it to make a point about the way that events are manipulated by the (state-controlled) media, whereas Victory Day is about the way that history informs the present, specifically World War II, taking a celebration of Soviet victory over Germany, but as it unfolds at a monument in Berlin itself. These are slow, self-effacing documentaries that nonetheless reveal something fairly interesting about the ways we relate to history, and the way it can be used.
For most of the past week, my blog has been focusing on the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, with a roster of mighty melodramas, but in the modern era directors like Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu have found box office success (both in Mexico and in the United States, where many of them work now) in a variety of genres, though often still tending towards the dark and thorny. None has gained quite as much fervid festival acclaim (not to mention exasperated brickbats) than Carlos Reygadas, who unlike his contemporaries has remained in Mexico to make his films, rich with religious symbolism, copious sex and an austerely formal camera style. He made his name with Japón (2001, which is on the Criterion Collection now), and followed with the divisive Battle in Heaven (2005, below), with its Bressonian approach to non-actors combined with rather more florid content than Bresson would ever have countenanced. 2007’s Silent Light is to my mind his finest picture in terms of reconciling his themes and formal style, dealing with a Mennonite community, but Post Tenebras Lux (2012) has many admirers. His most recent film (Our Time) is also his longest, and is reviewed below.
This film was presented at the London Film Festival, introduced by the film’s director alongside the director of the Festival. There was a Q&A session afterwards as well. In his introduction, Weerasethakul joked that we might fall asleep during the film (a play on its thematic content, see below), but as it was a late screening and I’d had a few glasses of wine, I did drift off for some short periods, so the review (more than usual) should be taken as provisional.
Like many of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, this newest one (ostensibly his last to be made in his home country) is imbued with a deep sense of mystery even as it seems on the surface fairly straightforward. Jenjira Pongpas plays a woman with the same name who is a carer at a rural hospital looking after sick soldiers, including Itt (one of the director’s regular stars, Banlop Lomnoi). The nature of the soldiers’ illness is rather oblique but they have a sort of sleeping sickness that renders them comatose. Others who work there embrace spiritualism and faith-based healing, and Jenjira is certainly receptive to this, praying at a local shrine for the health of her wounded leg. One of the princesses to whom the shrine is dedicated comes to her and shows her hidden features of the local area, including a royal palace and a cemetery under the hospital. As these plot details accrue, the line between reality and the dream world is blurred, in very subtle ways — the different states are almost entirely intertwined with one another with only slight visual clues indicating the non-naturalistic nature of this resulting world. Both Jen and the audience are drawn into an imaginary landscape, which is apparently intended as a critique of the ruling regime in Thailand and their call to patriotic royalist feelings and relying heavily on appeals to a syncretic pantheistic religious practice — or at least, this is my provisional response to one viewing of the film, myself partially under the influence of sleep. It’s a fascinating work, perhaps one of Weerasethakul’s strongest, and I shall certainly be seeking out another viewing when it is released properly.
Director/Writer Apichatpong Weerasethakul อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล; Cinematographer Diego Garcia; Starring Jenjira Pongpas เจนจิรา จันทร์สุดา, Banlop Lomnoi บรรลพ ล้อมน้อย; Length 122 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Tuesday 13 October 2015.