You can't be biased when it comes to a review. Despite a strong opinion one might have on the work of, say, Michael Bay or Garry Marshall or Thailand's Apichatong Weerasethakul, there must be a mindset that a director's new film could be great when sitting down in front of the screen. Open mind and all that.
As the opening credits roll on the latest Weerasethakul offering, I prepare myself to slip into his trademark lackadaisical vibe where everything happens in its own good time. I try hard to forget about the necessity of momentum, story structure, and narrative cause-and-effect. Dialogue too doesn't have to drive the story forward or reveal things about the characters, for whom there is nothing at stake. Performances don’t have to be engaging. I try to train myself to think that what I believe to be a bland and flat tone is really an otherworldly atmosphere. I try to let things just be what they are and enjoy.
But I can't. Despite all this effort boredom always settles in. Why? Well, because his films are boring.
Physical therapist Jenjira Pongpas is a volunteer at a makeshift military hospital whose patients suffer from a sleeping sickness after overseeing government-led renovations of a nearby site. Tending to the men, one of them, Itt (Lomni) suddenly and inexplicably wakes up one day. Meanwhile Jeng (Ruenagram) is a psychic who can tap into Itt's mind which can travel back in time to past lives and discovers that the hospital was the setting of a palace…
There's melancholy, tenderness and a lament (and fascination) for an era long gone afoot, and there are the occasional eye-catching scenes (when the strange machines the soldiers are hooked up to change colour; the man asleep under the poster advertising European husbands) but the above problems still dominate and try as I might I just can't tune into the film's subtle frequency.
There's a real distance between audience and characters too, more so than the director's award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. That's partly down to the lack of close ups - Apichatong Weerasethakul likes to shoot from a ways off – and the loose grasp one might have on the goings on and what it all means.
For fans only.