Criterion Prediction #135: Cemetery of Splendor, by Alexander Miller
Title: Cemetery of Splendor
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram
Synopsis: In a makeshift clinic that houses comatose soldiers who have fallen under a mysterious sleeping sickness, a volunteer nurse forms a telepathic bond with one of the patients through a medium.
Critique: I had never heard of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and had no clue what the movie was about when watching Cemetery of Splendor the first time. I didn’t fully comprehend what was going on. The second time through I had a better grasp of the film but much of this experience is a mystery to me. Looking at the movie regarding context, theme, and style, there are elements of political allegory, dreamy metaphysics, and folklore mythology. On paper, these intersecting points should be clunkily incongruous. But, what I now recognize as Weerasethakul skilled hand of lucidly realized spiritual expressionism takes some adjusting to, the aspects and dimensions of Cemetery of Splendor isn’t an easy watch but a rewarding one as it marches to its own beat. It’s the kind of artistic adherence that exists on the opposite end of the spectrum. Whereas there are the disciplined auteurs whose creative instincts are patterned and distinctive, Weerasethakul opts for a porous reality that evokes mysticism and spiritualism without the obligatory notion of seeking or explanation. His films hover in a somnambulant aura of shy discovery. Cemetery of Splendor is rife with heady material with it reincarnated gods, spiritual miasma, folklore, and hallucinogenic medical practices but in a spherical, amoeba-like structure. The continuity and logic have a self-sustained feeling in that there’s no formulaic structure, Cemetery of Splendor exists in a circular plane, as if it surpasses beginning and ending it lives in a cycle of reincarnation.
Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor doesn’t ask questions so don’t expect answers. But it does project beautifully challenging and visually compelling moments, images, and scenes. This is the kind of film that happens and it’s best if you join.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Cemetery of Splendor is one of Weerasethakul’s more popular titles and it’s garnered critical acclaim, festival awards, and prestige among cinephiles. One easy connection to make is that said accolades make this movie a prime candidate for the Criterion treatment but a more motivated argument is that Cemetery of Splendor is the type of film that is known by many but, with a little bit of a push in distribution, could stand to reach a wider audience. Seeing as Filmstruck is hosting five of the directors films on Filmstruck, Cemetery of Splendor, and his debut (featured in the second volume of The World Cinema Project, spine number 875) Mysterious Object at Noon, there’s Tropical Malady, Syndromes of a Century and his other more renowned Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Given the amount of attention Criterion is spending on Weerasethakul, it’s safe to say we can see more of his work welcomed into the collection.