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2017-5-24 Dream State: Cemetery of Splendor | Apichatpong Weerasethakul

DreamState
InCemetery of Splendor, Apichatpong Weerasethakul employs his entrancing language of
metaphor to diagnose an ailing Thailand

By Violet Lucca (/author/vlucca/) in the March/April 2016 (https://www.lmcomment.com/issue/march-


april-2016/) Issue

Dispensingwiththehomagestolow-budget ai lmandtelevisionthatgaveadistinctive avortothe


magicalrealistgoings-onofUncleBoonmeeWhoCanRecallHisPastLives(10)andTropicalMalady(04),
CemeteryofSplendorisApichatpongWeerasethakulsmostopenlypolitical lm.Ofcourse,opennessis
relativetheresstillplentyofmythandsymbolismtosi throughbuttheoccultationisindirect
dialoguewiththeregimesetinplaceby ailandsmilitarydictatorship.CemeteryofSplendorisalsothe
directorsmostprofoundlysorrowfulwork,onethatspeaksindream-logic tsandstartstothecountrys
troubledpastandtenebrousfuture.

Setinthe lmmakershometownofKhonKaen,thestoryprimarilyfollowsanaging aiwoman,Jen


(ApichatpongregularJenjiraPongpasWidner),whovolunteersataclinictotendtocomatosesoldiers.
eresnocluetothemedicalcauseoftheirmysteriousdeepsleep,andthemenhavebeenquarteredinan
oldelementaryschoolratherthanahospital,theironlytreatmentintheformoflightmachines,
formerlyusedonU.S.soldiersinAfghanistanasawaytoencouragegooddreams. esix-foot-tall,cane-
liketubesslowlycyclethroughpatternsofblue,green,cherry-ChapStickpink,andbloodred,andserveas
the lmsalternatelydazzlingandmenacingvisualrefrain,loomingoverthesoldiersinertbodieslike
somethingoutofscience ctionoragalleryinstallation.( econceptforthedevicescamefromanMIT
neurologicalstudythatsuccessfullycreatedarti cialmemoriesinmicebyexposingtheirneuronsto
ashesoflight.)Meanwhile,thehospitalattendantsclosethewindows,blockingouttheoutsideworldand
enshroudingthesoldiersindarkness,aninversionoftheparableofPlatosCave.

Periodically,thesoldierswakeup. eyoungmanunderJenscare,Itt(BanlopLomnoi,whoplayedKeng,
thesoldierinTropicalMalady), rstregainsconsciousnesswhileshesmassagingcreamontohischest
buto enendsuppassingoutmid-sentence.AsJendiscoversthankstotwoprincessesatashrinethe
schoolliesonthesiteofanancientkingdomsgraveyard,andthesoldiershavebeenenlistedinabattlefor
thesovereignswhiletheyslumber. isrevelationtakesonnewmeaninginlightof ailandswide-
sweepinglsemajestlaw,whichhasbeenusedtoimprisoncitizensforyearsatatimeoverminor(or
completelyoblique)critiquesofthemonarchy.Justaseveryoneinthecountryisdeprivedoftherightto
speakagainstthegovernment,somustthesesoldiersserveunwillinglyandunconsciously;conversely,
theirdormancycanalsobeunderstoodassuggestingapublicthatpassivelyrefusestorevoltagainstthe
dictatorship.

Cemetery of Splendor

AsinApichatpongsother lms,wereo eredmanycheeryslicesofdailylifethatexpresswhatitsliketo


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2017-5-24 Dream State: Cemetery of Splendor | Apichatpong Weerasethakul

AsinApichatpongsother lms,wereo eredmanycheeryslicesofdailylifethatexpresswhatitsliketo


bein ailand:guidedaerobicsclassesinapark,achickenwanderingthroughanopendoorway,food
stallsinanopen-airnightmarket.Butthespecterofuneasysleephangsoveritall.Inoneofthe lms
morepointedsequences,IttandJengotoamultiplexandsitthroughatrailerforasalacioussupernatural
horror lm. eaudiencerises(asismandatedbylaw)forthe ainationalanthembeforethemainshow,
butinsteadofmusic,theresonlysilence. erefollowsamontageoftableauxthatundercutany
propagandisticpictureofprogress:agroupofhomelesspeoplesleepingunderastreetlampnexttoa
muralofSarit anarat(asoldierwhostagedacoupin1957andremainedPrimeMinisteruntilhis
death),amangatheringtrashnearareservoir,andamansleepinginabusshelterwithanadfortheEU
weddingstudio.Whenwereturntotheneonmall,anunconsciousIttisbeingcarriedoutofthetheater,
downamazeofescalators;thisisslowlycross-fadedwiththerestofthesoldierslyingasleepinthe
classroom,bathedinthesinisterglowoftheirdreammachines.ItsasifItthasbeenpulleddownintoHell.

eideaofpokingholesinthe airegimesfalsesenseoffaultlessness ndsanotherkindofexpressionin


theskincreamsthatarediscussedduringthe lm:atbesttheytreatthesurface,butusuallyhavenoe ect
atall.However,Apichatpongsfarmorehauntingimagesarethoselinkedwiththewarsandgenocide
aroundthespreadofcommunismintheregion.IttleadsJenonatourofapalacethatonlyhecansee;
thejungleweseeislitteredwithcementsculpturesfromtheSalaKeokuTemple,aparkcreatedby
controversialmystic/artistBunleuaSulilatthatfusesBuddhist,Hindu,animist,andsecularartstyles.
(SulilathadcreatedasimilarreligiousparkinhisnativeLaos,justacrosstheMekongRiver,beforebeing
drivenoutbythe1975Communistrevolution;ironically,SalaKeokuwaspartiallydestroyedbythe ai
armyforbeingasuspectedCommuniststronghold.) epairpasstwoofSulilatssculptures,whichalso
appearinApichatpongsinstallationFireworks(Archives):twoloversembracingonabench,and vefeet
away,thesamecoupleposedasgrinningskeletons.

oughominous-looking,thesesculptures tatleastintoareligiousbeliefinreincarnation.Yetthe
repeatedimage(orsound)ofacranediggingholesoutsidetheclinico ersnosuchcomfortofcontext:the
grave-likeimageeerilyreplicateswhatCambodiaskilling eldslookliketodayabrutalinvocationof
deathandsu eringatthehandsofgovernment.Attheend,Jenstaresintentlyatthesecratersaskidsplay
socceronthem,inwhatspartlyareferencetosymbolismforawarenessamongcriticsoftheregime.
Whetherthecraneisexcavatingthepastorcreatinggravesforthefutureremainsuncertain;however,it
mightbetoolateforJen,grimlyforcinghereyesopenaswidelyaspossible,towakeupfromthis
of Splendorparticularnightmare.

Afewdaysbeforeourinterview,youscreenedPabloLarransNoinBangkokatCinemaDiverse.Why
that lm?

Itssuperlikeamirrorto ailand.Itsalmostlikeafantasybecauseweneverhadthechancetovoteinthe
pastyear.Iwenttovote,butthenthearmyoverthrewthecountry,somyvotewascanceled.Noissucha
clevermovietobeabletosharethehope:Oh,maybeonedaywecanhaveaneventlikeinChile.InChile
withPinochet,itwas16yearsuntilpeoplecameouttovote,and16yearscanmakealotofpeopleforget.
For ailand,itsbeentwoyears.Sowehavealongwaytogoconsideringthispatternofhumanabuse.It
mightbe10or15yearsbeforewehavearealdemocracy.BythattimeImightnotbeabletomakemovies,
butfortheaudiencethere,Ishowedthem:Dontforget.Inthefuturewecanmakethiskindof lm.

HasCemeteryofSplendorbeenshownin ailandyet?

Notyet.Iwantto,butImnotsureifitstherighttimewithalotofcensorshipgoingon.Personalsafetyis
alsoaconcern.
isisyourmostovertlypolitical lm.Howisitrelatedtoyourfeelingsaboutreligionand
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2017-5-24 Dream State: Cemetery of Splendor | Apichatpong Weerasethakul

isisyourmostovertlypolitical lm.Howisitrelatedtoyourfeelingsaboutreligionand
meditation?

Itsamixtureofthings. eressomepoliticalin uence,butIstillfeelthatitsnotapolitical lm.Many


peoplecanaccessthisfrommanyangles.Forme,meditationispartofmyinterest,andatthesametime
thereisalittlecon ictaboutmeditationandignorance,andtheruleofkarmainBuddhism.Wearea
Buddhistcountry,butthereissomuchviolencegoingon.Sothe lmispartlythispush-and-pullbetween
thisserenityandsometimesthesedoubts.

Inthe lm,theBuddhistgoddessesthatappeartoJenarefromLaos.Couldyoutalkaboutthis
relationshipbetween ailandandLaos?

elegendssaythattheyareprincessesfromLaos,andinthatperiod ailandinthenortheastandLaos
werethesamekingdom.IdonthaveaverycomfortablerelationshipwithBangkok,becauseIgrewupin
thenortheastpartofIsan. emoreIstudythehistory,themoreitseemsverysadthat,becauseofthe
uni cationofthecountry,culturesdisappearedandwerenotencouraged.Somyrecentworksare
investigationsintotheareaalmostayearningtoreachoutandbringbackthepast.AndforJenjira
herself,herrealfatherisfromLaos,sowhenthecountrywasseparated,shewasseparatedfromherdad
backthere.

Cemetery of Splendor

eresalsotheareashistorywithcommunism,whichiscomplicatedbyAmericaninvolvementwith
ailand.

erewasareallybiginvolvementbytheU.S.withthe aigovernmenttoopposethecommunismthat
spreadfromVietnamthroughLaosto ailand.Peoplewerefascinatedbycommunismbecauseit
promisedabetterfuture.SowiththeU.S.,yougotridofcommunismbutatthesametimetheU.S.created
manymonstersnamelythegeneralsin ailand.[Laughter]And[inthe lm]thatguywiththemuralon
thewallisoneofthemonsters.

Artworkiskeyinthe lm.Whatsthesigni canceoftheuseofreligioussculpture?

ewholetemple,withthesculpturesandthesigns,wasalwayspreachingBuddhismandthekarmaand
reincarnation.Andthissculptureispartofthiscycleofsu ering,andIthinkofcertainperiodswhenI
feelthatlivinghereseemsverydepressingbeinggovernedbythislawthatconstantlyteachesyou,asif
youareastudentallthetimelivingin ailand.Andalsoinschool,wealwayshavethispropaganda,texts
andpoems. atshowwegrewup:thekidsaretaught[tobe]very,veryreligious.

Howdidyouchooseshootinglocations?

Itwasinmyhometown.SoIknowalltheplaces,andmostlyIbasedito ofmymemorygrowingupwith
thishospital,andthecinemas,andthisschool.Itriedtocombinethethreeelementsinthe lm.And
duringpreproduction,allthelakescript-writingIshi edtomyhometownbecauseIfeltthatthestorywas
gettingmoreandmorepersonal.

ereisamuralofoneofourprimeministersofthemostbrutalregime,yetpeoplestillworshiphim
becauseofallthispropaganda.KhonKaen,ourplace,myhometown,isthehomeofhisstatuebecausehe
isconsideredtheonewhobroughtdevelopmenttotheregion.Butformeitsquiteshockingtoseehis

statueandallthemuralsofhim.
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2017-5-24 Dream State: Cemetery of Splendor | Apichatpong Weerasethakul

statueandallthemuralsofhim.

Whatsthemeaningofthescenewhenpeoplearewalkingaroundbythewater?

Ifoundthatsometimestheextraswerenotreallygoodatacting,butIfoundthatreallybeautiful,because
itsa lmmakingprocessandeverythingisaboutcontrolling,aboutbeingpuppets.SoatthelakeIlikedto
stressthisideaaboutpuppetryand lmmakingandalsothekindoffeelingsIhavelivingin ailand.

Cemetery of Splendor

CouldyoutalkaboutworkingwithJenjiraanddrawingonherlife?

Iveworkedwithheralotforthepast10years,notonlyonfeaturesbutshortsandinstallations.Many
aspectsofherlifehadalreadybeentranslatedintotheseworks.Forthis lmIjustwantedtoshootthe
essenceofhernewlifeandhermemories,thatshesmovingonwiththenewhusband,andhesitating
aboutthisnewlifeandre ectingonthatwiththeyoungwoman.

LastfallyoupremieredatheaterprojectinKorea,FeverRoom,whichsoundedlikeanextensionof
CemeteryofSplendor.

eyareinthesameworld,inthesamefeverdreamthatisquiteanightmareactually. etwoworks
sharethetwocharactersJenandIttdreaming,sharingdreams,andsharingimagesinthefeverroomof
memory.ButFeverRoomismoreabstract,itgoesbeyondthenarrative. eyareliketwinsindi erent
expressions.

Itsmy rsttime[withtheater]andwhenIwalkedonthestageIfeltlike, isisthecinema.Upthereis


wherethe lmhappens.Andtohavetheaudiencethereistheclosestthingtobeinsidethecinema,inside
maybethewomb.SoIthought,Maybetheaudiencewillbepartofthis,almostacharacterandviewerat
thesametime.Andwiththelightsshiningatthem.Sotheresthisre ectingbackandforthabout
watchingandbeingwatched.Its tting,theideaofCemeteryofSplendorandalsothisideaofdreaming
andsleeping,becausesometimesyourejustinandoutoftheexperienceitsashi ingperspective.

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2017-5-24 Dream State: Cemetery of Splendor | Apichatpong Weerasethakul

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