A curious sense of tranquility falls over the entirety of Cemetery of Splendour, a hypnotic, melancholic love story full of mystery and wonder. Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Cemetery is a still, serene, and slow exploration that allows you quickly to realize something unsettling is taking place beneath its calm veneer.
Well, it’s not necessary beneath. It’s alongside and interspersed, as while time and space are very certain in this world, however authentic it feels, it yet seems as if reality can bend and change. And that’s without anything overtly affected or stylized. Lengthy takes make up various scenes, often shot a comfortable distance away from those conversing, as if what is happening around them is just as important as what they are saying.
In a hospital in Thailand, a nurse falls in love with a patient, one of many suffering from a bizarre sleeping ailment. Set in the director’s hometown, in the region of Isan, Jenjira volunteers at this makeshift clinic that seeks to treat soldiers afflicted with an illness that unpredictably puts them to sleep for an undetermined amount of time. Jenjira too has her own medical issues, needing crutches to move around, but she soon feels a sense of synchronicity with Itt, a comatose soldier who awakens at her touch.
Much of the movie revolves around their conversations, these intimate musings about life and love that take place in various beautiful settings, again somehow enchanting without ever being buoyed by visual effects. Uncannily, Weerasethakul transports us to a place completely situated in reality and actuality that is simultaneously magical and moving. At times it feels almost like watching a long-form documentary, with a stationary camera capturing an environment that just so happens to include a couple having a casual discussion.
There is humor too in the beauty, which comes in the form of both visual gags and pratfalls to awkward moments and jokes.
Cemetery too has some geopolitical rumblings, which can neither be dismissed nor overrated. This is not a political film, but present day connections to past Thai rulers emerge in the story and in a country with regular upheaval, paralysis of characters in the film offers an easy metaphoric connection. It too seems somewhat autobiographical, as the directors navigates his hometown showing off sites and excitement as a backdrop for our leads.
Nevertheless, Cemetery, for so much steady meandering in all its art house glory, is fascinating, and a most welcoming piece of slow cinema. Let yourself be immersed and observe a natural world and growing bond between two vulnerable characters seeking connection and meaning.