Thursday, March 31, 2016

Movie Review: Mekong Hotel

Mekong Hotel
Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 
Written By: Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
In some locations, the release of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour is accompanied by his 2012 short (57 minute) Mekong Hotel that was previously unavailable in North America. That wasn’t the case when I saw Cemetery of Splendour at the TIFF Lightbox a few weeks ago, but when I noticed the film has been added to iTunes (in Canada anyway), I figured it was worth the couple bucks and an hour of my time. Unfortunately there isn’t very much to Mekong Hotel – it plays like the director is simply playing around with ideas he has already explored, and will explore again in the future, but in no really meaningful way. The film is confusing – if you watch it with no context, it would be borderline incomprehensible. In short, there is a reason why the film has been mainly unseen since its debut at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival – and why it will likely remain that way. It’s really for diehards only.
The film blends together different elements – some documentary (or at least documentary like) footage of Apichatpong Weerasethakul talking to his friend, who is constantly strumming on a guitar (the music is beautiful). Then there is a quiet, slowly evolving love story between two younger people, who like Apichatpong Weerasethakul  and the guitar player, talk about nothing much. The young woman’s mother is also at the title hotel – but she is now a so-called “Pob Ghost” – and spends much of her time gorging on bloody entrails. She can also inhabit the bodies of others, and essentially get them to do the same thing.
All of this takes place at the beautiful hotel of the title – on the border of Laos and Thailand, and filmed at a period of flooding. There are many, long, unbroken, mainly silent shots of the flooded areas. These shots are beautiful, and there is no mistaking them for the work of any other director. Also making sure there is no mistaking the director, the supernatural or horror elements are dropped in the film in a completely nonchalant way, and the characters simply except this and move on.

Apparently much of the “fictional” elements of the movie are based on an old screenplay that Weerasethakul had written, which he has not had the money to make properly (at least the time, and now he has moved on). This is probably why some of it feels so familiar – while Weerasethakul has always, deliberately repeated themes, motifs and visuals from film to film, this one really does feel like a leftover from Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives – and without that films creativity and inventiveness.
In short, Mekong Hotel is more a doodle than anything – the equivalent of a writer’s notebook that contains fragments of ideas that really don’t add up to very much. Is it interesting to see Weerasethakul’s ideas? Sure, a little. But my interest got strained pretty quickly. Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a masterful filmmaker – one of the best currently working in the world right now. But perhaps he didn’t really need to share this with the public. Diehards, knock yourself out. The rest of you can skip it, and focus on Cemetery of Splendour and his other features.

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