In a converted school in West Thailand, a group of soldiers with a mysterious narcoleptic condition are moved into a temporary hospital to be treated and examined. Local knitwear saleswomen Jen (Pongpas) pays a visit to an old friend there and seeing stricken soldier Itt (Lomnoi) lying in bed with no obvious relatives, decides to become his surrogate mother and carer. Local psychic Keng (Rueangram) spends time with the men and their families to allow them to communicate with each other via her telepathic abilities. When Jen is visited by the long-dead princesses of Laos, she is informed that the hospital is built on the tombs of ancient kings and that the soldiers energies are being sapped by the still warring kings in the underworld. And so begins the somewhat arbitrary tale of Jen’s quasi-unearthing of the facts.

Cemetery of Splendour is one of those movies which will totally polarise consensus. Some will enjoy it as a suggestive mystery horror with intentionally vague narrative and meandering dialogue, allowing the audience to create its own conclusions while enjoying an artistic, slow-moving treat. Others will think it’s pretentious rubbish. In many ways, it’s easy to hop between one camp and the other as the running time sluggishly drags by.

Cemetery of Splendour

The main theme of the movie is the relationships between Jen and Keng, and Jen and Itt, and the psychic combination of both. The rest of the time Weerasethakul seems to be concerned mainly with throwing as many gluey metaphors at the wall to see which will stick; the sleeping men represent the Thai government’s inaction, that Thai religious beliefs are still bubbling strong under the modern day semi-westernised surface. The problem with metaphors though is that they’re like woodlice; look close enough and you’ll find hundreds of them under the first rock you lift. Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix in Commando could be considered the metaphorical pebble fighting against the unstoppable force of Bennett’s ocean. But it’s not is it? It’s about shooting stuff. This is where it is easy to slip into snobbish art-critic mode and ignore any shortcomings; excusing lassitude as deep complexity, confusing muddle with magnificence. It’s jazz dear, you wouldn’t understand.

There are nice moments; the soldier’s wives asking Keng to transmit questions to their husbands (‘Ask him who his mistress is’, ‘Ask him what colour he’d like the bathroom painted’) is a much needed snippet of light-heartedness and eases the lethargy for a moment or two, but are too fleeting to make much of an impact.

Cemetery of Splendour

Pongpas does a respectable job in the lead role but there is too much navel gazing by all involved to really set off any performance fireworks. Lomnoi brings some much needed spark to the discourse when he’s occasionally awake, but as he randomly slips back into his slumber, the whole situation slips back into first gear and blandly trundles back along the already well-worn track.

Cemetery of Splendour is a brave film which casts off the customary perceptions of how a movie should be structured. Most of the time though it feels like it tries a little too hard to be leftfield, as if Weerasethakul is deliberately making a statement of creative intent, and loses a degree of artistic integrity along the way. One thing it does manage to do miraculously though is to cunningly invent a cinematic temporal anomaly where two hours feels more like four.

2 / 5

Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Scr: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Cast: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram

Prd: Michael Weber, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Charles de Meaux, Simon Field, Hans W. Geissendörfer, Keith Griffiths

DOP: Diego Garcia

Country: Thailand, UK, Germany, France, Malaysia, South Korea, Mexico, USA, Norway

Year: 2016

Run Time: 99 Minutes

By Colin Lomas

I first watched The Company of Wolves at the age of 8. It gave me a lifelong love of the cinema and an utter terror of everything else.