American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It's difficult to say what Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" is about, and in many respects, to discuss its meaning would be to diminish it. The film works the way a Shakespearean sonnet works in that it actually increases its impact the moment it's over. Within its structure lies multiple intersecting and contradicting arcs of meaning, none of which cancel each other out but instead create a vast pool of associations. To try to narrow it down into "what it means" would be ruinous, akin to ripping apart a butterfly's wings to see how they operate. You may gain some insight, but you have destroyed the whole. The word "unique" is sometimes over-used, but in Weerasethakul's case, it applies. His films are personal, and what interests him is evident, but the way he decides to "put things together" is "sui generis." He is an artist who follows his own star with such devotion that his films feel like memories of a collective distant past, snatched from the surface of the subconscious, suggesting the iceberg below. His images have great and dreamy staying power.
"Cemetery of Splendour" takes place in a small rural hospital in Isan, Thailand. In the main ward, a group of ex-soldiers lie in cots, sleeping all day and all night. Volunteers minister to them. A series of gently curving tubes are placed beside each bed, tubes that glow and pulsate through different spectrums of colored light, green flowing into red and into blue. Nobody is quite sure what has brought on the marathon sleeping. Outside, a nearby field is being dug up, giant machines heaving up mountains of dirt. Children play amongst the mounds. It is said that the hospital is built on a cemetery of ancient kings, still engaged in fighting a war on another plane, sapping the current-day soldiers of their energy.
Jen (Jenjira Pongpas, who has appeared in multiple Weerasethakul films) volunteers in the hospital. One of Jen's legs is shorter than the other, requiring her to walk with a cane and wear a special shoe. Her disability is treated matter-of-factly, not even referenced, until a devastating later moment when it is addressed directly in one of the most astonishing scenes in recent memory. Jen ministers to one of the soldiers whose name is Itt (Banlop Lomnoi). She feels a connection to him, she bathes his body with an almost erotic tenderness. Sometimes he wakes up, suddenly, and the two of them take walks, talk, and then, just as suddenly, he falls unconscious.
Jen and Itt's relationship is the main story, I suppose, but that would be like saying "Hamlet" is "about" a boy and his mother. While the film unfolds, you are caught in its undulating rhythms, drawn from image to image, given the time to contemplate the juxtaposition, how the film is put together and why. It's so rich that way. Once the screen goes to black, you are left to your own devices in terms of interpretation. There are other recent films in this tradition, "Upstream Color," "Post Tenebras Lux," where meaning is contained IN the images: the films are like entering someone else's dream-logic. Things "make sense" in profound dreams, and the dreamer may feel he is being given a kind of truth unavailable to him in the waking world.