Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films take his audiences on journeys along multiple pathways and towards uncertain outcomes. In him, and in his films, the two great, time-old models of Walter Benjamin’s narrators can be found: the marine that travels the world’s oceans and returns overwhelmed by what he saw, to the point of needing to tell it all at all costs; and the sedentary rural farmer that has gained intense and invaluable experience from constantly observing things that never change. In both cases, the narrator holds a central role in the community he belongs to. This is the only way a tradition can continue: through constant renewal.

Joe, as he has come to be known, is from Thailand. His artistic work, such as with the sedentary farmer, reveals a deep understanding of the different ways that a culture takes possession of the world: from the most common forms of knowledge that are most needed in order for life to continue, such as medicine or cooking, to the highest levels of knowledge that deal with meeting a spiritual end in order to prevent our existence from becoming a languid waste of time. But for Apichatpong, there is no difference between high and low, nobility and common folk, or what is spiritual and what is sensual. The center of his films is life, he creates it instead of just recording it behind a lens of a camera. The eye behind the lens captures all existence, gathers and unites what is dispersed, but never takes over the altar or the role of “the enlightened”. He is a narrator, he is Joe, he is one of many surrounding a flame that calms the distresses and surprises of everyday life, rather than the leader of a secret cult demanding sacrifices. He is more interested in the story that is created by all than in the history written by the victors.

The journeys his films take us on are not reduced to the normal shifts of space and time, as with the journey of the marine. There are similar or greater challenges in the journeys into people’s souls, their earliest memories and into their founding imagery. But film is a surface-level art, and the miraculous transformation his films provide reach deeply beyond appearances and feelings. Returning to the origins of a character does not occur through rhetoric, but through contact with the very material of the world, as with the descent into the cave in Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall his Past Lives. Similar to the concept of reaching the heart of the rainforest
- as in Blissfully Yours or Tropical Malady - Joe’s films are all journeys into the unknown, which connects us with our deepest fears and desires.

It would be a terrible misconception to associate Apichatpong’s films with the early stages of conventional cinema d’auteur. As with almost any great artist, the fuel for his film is popular folklore: myths, legends, superstition, magic, uncertainty, loss, disease, and the body. His narration style – which does not only include cinema, but also a variety of formats, experiences and forms of communication – is closely intertwined with the traditions of great storytellers that turn to images when they want to explain something. The true folk narratives, rooted in the collective whole
- rather than pursuing commercial exploitation - feel their way forward, they use digressions, they never follow a straight line, they include stories within stories, and tales within tales. From his first work, Mysterious Object at Noon, to his last, Cemetery of Splendor, this is what Joe is all about: a narrative art that follows no straightforward path, open, free, and indecisive - a virtual love letter to his spectator.