Friday, 2 November 2018

Cemetery of Splendour

Cemetery of Splendour
Apichatpong Weerasethakul will show his most recent feature film, Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), at the Thai Film Archive on 19th November. The film was shown internationally in 2015, though it did not receive a Thai release.

Apichatpong's film Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ) was cut by the Thai censorship board, and he therefore decided not to submit Cemetery of Splendour to the censors, meaning it could not be shown in Thai cinemas. Once bitten, twice shy (though he did arrange a low-key screening for an invited audience at a mobile cinema in his home town of Chiang Mai on 23rd February).

It is, of course, a sad irony that one of the world's most acclaimed directors feels unable to show his work in his own country. When I interviewed Apichatpong in 2016, he explained that he had been inexplicably singled out by the censors: "I think that whatever I do, I will be targeted. Either a ghost movie, or whatever. It's a paranoid time. They're willing to do a witch-hunt, so I become paranoid of them in my own way, and I don't want to risk it. As long as I manage to finish this film as I want, and show it, but not here."

His hesitancy is due primarily to one sequence in Cemetery of Splendour, in which an audience stands in silence. Thai cinemagoers are required to stand for the royal anthem before film screenings, though the anthem cannot be included in films themselves, as Apichatpong told me: "I actually wanted to show the royal anthem, because it's documentary-like. It's what we do. But I know it's impossible, because in the movie Soi Cowboy [ซอยคาวบอย], this was cut out. Censored. So I said, 'It's impossible anyway.' So, just silence." Concerned that the silent scene could be misinterpreted, Apichatpong removed it from all DVD and blu-ray releases of the film, in case they were ever circulated in Thailand.

Like the director's other work, the film is not directly political, though it does include subtle visual references to Thailand's volatile political situation. A portrait of dictator Sarit Thanarat is visible in the background of one scene, implying the military's continued influence on Thai politics. (Similarly, a statue of Sarit looms over the characters in Apichatpong's short film Song of the City, part of the portmanteau film Ten Years Thailand.) Also, one of the characters keeps a journal, in which he writes that lèse-majesté convict Ampon Tangnoppakul should be released ("ขอให้อากงได้ออกมา"). (Apichatpong's short film Ashes includes footage of a demonstration by Ampon's supporters.)

Cemetery of Splendour will be screened free of charge, to celebrate Apichatpong receiving the FIAF Award from the International Federation of Film Archives. Previously, the Thai Film Archive screened his short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถึงลุงบุญมี) to mark his Palme d'Or win at the Cannes Film Festival. Last year, the Alliance Français organised an Apichatpong Weekend in honour of the director being named a Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

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