Cemetery of Splendour (15)

Cemetery of Splendour (15)

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Picturehouse, Liverpool
1st – 6th July 2016

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

The director of this film has stated that this is probably his final film to be shot in his home country of Thailand due to life under the military junta there, because he contends that it has rendered working freely as a filmmaker a near-impossibility.

In Cemetery of Splendour he tackles his narcoleptic subject with suitably very sedate pacing. It is set in a town in a remote part of Northern Thailand, where a group of soldiers have been gravely affected by a mysterious sleeping sickness.

The problem for the viewer though is nothing very much happens during the two hour span of the film. You almost fall asleep watching a group of soldiers, confined to bed in a clinic, almost comatose. They are all played by non-professional actors. Without sounding unkind you don’t need much acting ability in pretending to be asleep!

Apart from the sleeping soldiers the staff at the clinic mainly speak slowly and in hushed tones about often inconsequential matters, for instance, when two women discuss dress design.

Very oddly glowing light-tubes are installed over the soldiers’ beds, displaying colours from azure, pink, peppermint green and to blood red. These colour-cycles take up almost the whole of the second part of the film. I say very oddly because these coloured light tubes are meant to aid sleep. But surely a hospital clinic is meant to aid the recovery of patients not make their condition worse.

Some commentators have remarked on the political aspects of Cemetery of Splendour in that the sleeping sickness is symptomatic of Thailand’s series of repressive military dictatorships. I am no expert on Thailand’s recent political history so I can’t pass judgement on this theory.

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