Saturday, March 2, 2013

Film Review: Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mekong Hotel

Mekong Hotel, the latest ditty from Thai auteur Weerasethakul Apichatpong, would be looked upon as the strangest of creatures if it were by almost any other filmmaker in the world, but since it is from who it is from - and his friends just call him Joe, by the way - this hybrid of fact and fiction, this melange of documentary and ghost-cum-vampire fable, this amalgamation of truth and legend, seems like just another day in the life of Apichatpong "Just call me Joe" Weerasethakul - and by just another day, I mean a hauntingly melodic work of cinema, that is equal parts beautiful and terrifying, luscious and vicious, mesmerizing and harrowing.  In other words, it is a film from just another film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Clocking in at a slim 61 minutes, this experimental film, ostensibly blending together rehearsals for a never-made film with documentary footage of a hotel along the perennially rising waters of the Mekong River, which separates Thailand from Laos, is full of the typical beauty that is so often associated with the arthouse cinema of Mr. Weerasethakul - a beauty that never invades its subject, never engulfs it so no one can see the underlying torment of his characters, but rather acts as an artistically-minded frame for the story inside.  No less than two of Apichatpong's films have talking animals in them, inside stories that have no real reason for having talking animals, but when those animals talk, you don't even blink.  Nothing inside you says, "Oh, this is weird.  Why is this happening."  Instead, you think, "Well, yeah, of course those animals are talking, why the hell not."  This is the strange creature that is the cinema of good ole Joe.  Nothing is odd.  Nothing is out of the ordinary.  Everything here is just the way it should be, even if a catfish starts talking to a lost princess, even if a tiger taunts its prey, even, as happens in Mekong Hotel, a woman is feasting on the entrails of her seemingly oblivious daughter.  You just think, "Why the hell not."

Granted, the short run time of this latest film, makes for a slimmer content than most of his films - as well as a more difficult time trying to release the film theatrically (my best guess would be, other than on the festival circuit, of which it has already pretty much made its rounds, an online release as opposed to a theatrical one here in the states, is more likely), but even so, the queer melancholy one gets from the director's two best works, Tropical Malady and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the disarming quietness, the bucolic beauty, is in full force here, as we watch put-on rehearsals for an unrealized film about ancient vampiric ghosts, called Ecstasy Garden (though much smaller in scope, one is reminded of Terry Gilliam's unrealized film doc, Lost in La Mancha here), blended with talk of flooding and evacuation and immigration problems, and all encased with the melodic strings of an acoustic guitar that plays over nearly every minute of the film.  Mekong Hotel really is a quite fascinating work of fact and fiction - something one would be hard-pressed to take one's eyes off of - and hopefully it can find the light of day here in the states, so anyone who is interested - and yes, Weerasethakul is definitely a unique taste in cinephilia - can watch and be as mesmerized as this critic was.



Michaƫl Parent said...

Hi Kevyn,
I know it's been a while, but I just wanted to say that your reviews of contemporary films are one of the reasons why I want to still catch new films. Being on a diet of Classic films I always try to get my nose out of the dust and dig in the films of today. Your reviews are my way to keep myself informed!
By the way Weerasethakul is one of my director blind spots. I'll have to correct that very soon!

And also are you getting back on your quest with trying to complete the new edition of the 1000 Greatest films?

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. As always, your words are too kind. Weerasethakul is definitely a good one to watch. As for the updated 1000 list, I haven't looked at the additions yet, but right now I am working on writing a book about watching the list.