Cemetery of Splendour (4 stars)

Cemetery of Splendour

Apichatpong Weerasethakul ruminates on Thailand in his most accessible film to date

History is everywhere in a typically cryptic and melancholy tale from director Apichatpong Weerasethakul that may still be his most accessible work to date. It is layered through the memories and experiences of the central characters but it is also in the very ground that people walk over, making Cemetery of Splendour a film where personal and national identity demand an understanding of the past.

In an eerie echo of Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings, a strange sleeping sickness has overwhelmed a group of soldiers. Now the men lie slumbering in a clinic in Khon Kaen, Weerasethakul’s home city in northern Thailand. Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas) is a volunteer who maintains a vigil at the bedside of handsome soldier Itt (Banlop Lomnoi). She remembers the makeshift hospital when it was a school but there is more than one layer of history beneath the building. Young medium Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram) reveals that the grounds were once a graveyard for kings and their spirits could be accessing the energy of the sleeping soldiers.

Described by its director as a ‘rumination on Thailand’, Cemetery of Splendour unfolds in a deceptively serene, hypnotic manner with moments of wry humour and some beautiful images – not least the changing colours of the glowing electric lights used for the experimental treatment of the soldiers. It could almost be an art gallery installation.

Jenjira’s growing relationship with Keng allows her to see a bigger picture; in much the same way, the audience is invited to contemplate the longer view of Thailand. There is even a quiet sense of hope in what almost amounts to a musical finale, as grounds that once saw bloodshed and oppression are now where children play and adults exercise. Perhaps the message is that any individual or country can awaken from the darkness of its past.

Limited release from Fri 17 Jun.

Cemetery Of Splendour

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Thailand
  • 2h 2min
  • Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Cast: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram
  • UK release: 17 June 2016

When a group of soldiers come down with a mysterious sleeping sickness, hospital volunteer Jenjira (Pongpas) teams up with young medium Keng (Rueangram) to try to find the cause. Poetic meditation on Thai history, deceptively serene and hpynotic with moments of dry humour.