Ceme­tery of Splen­dor

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Michael Abatemarco

CEME­TERY OF SPLEN­DOR, drama/fan­tasy, not rated, in Thai with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 4 chiles

Di­rec­tor Apichat­pong Weerasethakul’s fea­ture is an al­le­gory for the mod­ern world, one that hints at deeper mean­ings than its straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive might im­me­di­ately sug­gest. It’s set in a ru­ral town in a north­ern re­gion of Thai­land, at a for­mer school that’s been con­verted into a tem­po­rary med­i­cal fa­cil­ity where sol­diers rest in limbo. They are suf­fer­ing from a mys­te­ri­ous sleep­ing sick­ness that has left them mostly co­matose. Jen­jira ( Jen­jira Pong­pas), a woman with a slight de­for­mity (she has one leg that’s shorter than the other), is a vol­un­teer at the clinic who watches over the men. Jen­jira is par­tic­u­larly taken with Itt (Ban­lop Lom­noi), a sol­dier who re­ceives no visi­tors.

As sol­diers drift in and out of con­scious­ness, the doc­tors try treat­ments, such as col­ored light ther­apy, which fail to ease their af­flic­tion. The wall sep­a­rat­ing wak­ing re­al­ity and the sol­diers’ sub­con­scious dreams grows thin af­ter Jen­jira’s young friend Keng ( Jar­in­pat­tra Ruean­gram), a medium, be­gins com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the men psy­chi­cally, as a go-be­tween for the sol­diers and their loved ones. Jen­jira be­gins to feel a bond with Itt, who spends his wak­ing mo­ments with her. In the film’s sec­ond half, Keng helps Jen­jira and Itt to com­mu­ni­cate by act­ing as a con­duit, chan­nel­ing an un­con­scious Itt so that he and Jen­jira, who re­gards him as though he were her own son, can con­verse. A clue to the enigma of the sleep­ing sol­diers might just lie in the cryp­tic note­book Itt has in his pos­ses­sion. The makeshift hospital rests above a ceme­tery that was once the burial place of kings, whose spir­its have not found rest.

Ceme­tery of Splen­dor is very much a char­ac­ter-driven drama. We feel great sym­pa­thy and emo­tional in­vest­ment in the de­vel­op­ing friend­ship be­tween the kindly Jen­jira and the hand­some young Itt as the film pro­ceeds at an unhurried, fluid pace. Mo­ments ob­served through­out, such as an earth dig­ger out­side that tears into the ground, take on a res­o­nance that sug­gests a peel­ing away of sur­faces to get at the truths buried be­neath. The film is rich with im­agery that is fairly com­mon­place, al­though the con­nec­tions be­tween the images go un­ex­plained and are left to weave an am­bigu­ous web. The film shifts sub­tly be­tween its rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the con­scious and sub­con­scious worlds, to the point where we are never re­ally quite sure what’s go­ing on. Mun­dane, ev­ery­day ac­tions qui­etly re­ver­ber­ate with por­tent. The past and the present, myth and his­tory, man and woman, fan­tasy and re­al­ity — all are con­flated into a lu­mi­nous, sub­lime se­ries of mo­ments in this place: a place of sick­ness, but also of heal­ing, a place where god­desses ap­pear in hu­man form and of­fer clues to the mys­tery. Ceme­tery of Splen­dor is a won­der­fully puz­zling de­light.

The go-be­tween: from left, Jar­in­pat­tra Ruean­gram, Jen­jira Pong­pas, and Ban­lop Lom­noi

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