Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest film, Mekong Hotel, opened the 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok earlier this month. Like Apichatpong's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, his short films A Letter To Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms Of Nabua, and his Primitive installation, it was filmed near the Mekong river on the Thai-Laos border.
The film stars two of Apichatpong's most frequent collaborators, Jenjira Pongpas and Sakda Kaewbuadee, who previously appeared together in the short films Luminous People, Morakot, The Anthem, and My Mother's Garden. The actors play partly fictionalised versions of themselves: the film is set near Jenjira's actual home, and she discusses her real-life memories and future plans. The documentary tone is set by the opening scene, in which Apichatpong auditions composer Chai Dhatana - a sequence later that was later expanded into a short film, Sakda.
Like Apichatpong's earlier short film Morakot, the eponymous Mekong hotel is a haunted guesthouse. A 'pob' spirit possesses each of the characters, briefly turning them into cannibals. Several of Apichatpong's previous films, notably Tropical Malady and Uncle Boonmee, have also featured spirits, though here the ghosts are surprisingly corporeal. Jenjira's character, for example, is revealed to be 600 years old, though she is portrayed as realistically as the similar 'ghost' in Pedro Almodovar's Volver.
As in Uncle Boonmee, the sense of magical realism is uncanny (in the Freudian sense) and sometimes comical. The characters seem to exist in several parallel universes: Sakda (who starred in Syndromes & A Century) plays at least three different people (a young man seducing his female neighbour, an old man with a different name, and a young gay man), though outwardly he always looks exactly the same. Again, this recalls Uncle Boonmee, in which Sakda and Jenjira have an out-of-body experience.
Mekong Hotel looks entirely naturalistic, with medium-shots, long takes, and no camera movement (inspired by Yazujiro Ozu?). The dialogue sequences are punctuated by long-shots of the river and its surrounding landscape, accompanied by Chai's guitar soundtrack.