Cemetery of Splendour is certainly Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s most accessible film. It’s moody and hypnotic, and, like the rest of his work, pretty incomparable. It might be my favorite film of his.
One thing that’s really great about Cemetery of Splendour is the f-you that Weerasethakul seems to throw at basic narrative “rules”. There’s so much in this film that begs an answer – is set up to beg and (usually) give an answer – and that just shrugs it off entirely. Why again are people walking around playing musical chairs on benches near the water? Like a lot of other events in the film, I caught no answer. If there is one it’s pretty hidden. I think that Weerasethakul likes playing with the conventions of the expected narrative arc. Or, more to the point, he likes the setup without the payoff.
That might be frustrating if there weren’t an entire separate set of expectations. That is, the audience who knows the director and knows this narrative game. It’s a game-within-a-game, and it’s fun. You don’t turn off your mind with a Weerasethakul film, but you do ignore a lot of typical call-and-response filmmaking tropes. In my opinion, a “successful” watch of Cemetery of Splendour or Tropical Malady or Syndromes and a Century is one where mood, beauty, and slow ironies prevail over strict story.
Weerasethakul might actually not really be a narrative filmmaker. The events he portrays seem to be connected more by a sense of wonderment and bewilderment than cause and effect.
Cemetery of Splendour is outright funny, it’s stunningly gorgeous-
-and it has a soundscape that rivals the films of Claire Denis and Lucrecia Martel (when is she making a new movie? As I type that I realize that The Headless Woman is probably a good comparable here). It’s a gorgeous dream within a dream within a dream. There’s something of Aguirre: The Wrath of God in here, where the madness of the jungle is replaced with a lucid sleeping sickness.
A Hard Day
Seong-hoon Kim’s A Hard Day is pretty fun. It’s a good mix of action and humor and excels at long set pieces. Go Geon-soo (Sun-kyun Lee) is a corrupt cop who accidentally kills someone with his car. When he tries to dispose of the body his life is suddenly turned upside-down.
This is a film that feels familiar. Events escalate impossibly and soon the routine has become hilariously and violently absurd. While resorting to cliche a few times, A Hard Day is fun mostly thanks to two extended scenes: how does Geon-soo hide a dead body in his mother’s coffin after said coffin has already been nailed shut and he has limited time alone in the room with it; and how does Geon-soo get away from the bad guy before a timed bomb that Geon-soo planted goes off?
Both are traditional: there’s a timer and one goal. Both really extend time. The former uses a decent amount of crosscut to ratchet the tension, while the latter relies heavily on reaction shots. But ultimately both are a testament to some solid direction and the time honored tradition of giving the audience more information than the character has (when set against a countdown, it’s even more Hitchcockian and effective).
It’s actually a really great screenwriting lesson: scene lacking suspense? Add time.
There’s my pet peeve in this film – an unnecessary “reminder” flashback (oh, right, that’s who that guy is), and some too cool for school moments, but A Hard Day is what a popcorn movie should be.