It’s queer to admit, but I never felt so lost in words the way I am right now. Even worse, how am I supposed to review a film whose meaning I can hardly understand? Despite that, it has a unique atmosphere that swallows you in one way or another. As you watch it – you feel like nothing happens. However, there is a meaningful silence that mortal ears can’t hear. Even a certain shape that you try to see through darkness can’t be seen because it is not meant to. It’s all about imagination that you will have to use throughout the film in order to understand something that only a few souls can.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR follows Jen who develops a special bond with a soldier named Itt, who has a mysterious sleeping sickness. Due to that, Itt and many other solders are transferred to a temporary clinic in a former school that hides a secret. Keng is a young psychic who uses her power to help Jen to communicate with the comatose Itt, who gets a chance to tell her the dream that he dreams while he’s asleep. Soon, Jen will discover a fact that will change her perspective of the world around her, but more importantly, herself internally as well.
This hospital, that’s located in Isan, Taiwan, has a past that continues to remain as present in the dreams of soldiers. Jen, who volunteered to help soldiers to recover from their sickness soon finds out that they, probably, will never recover. By the time she gets attached too closely to Itan, a handsome soldier with no family, Jen makes her way to the outside of the hospital where she meets two sisters. They introduce themselves as the princesses from the Shrine who tell Jenn that the place where she sits now used to be a palace. Bodies of dead villagers and solders laid everywhere. But most importantly, the cemetery of the kings was located beneath an elementary school, which is the hospital now.
But the most terrifying part is, when the princesses reveal that the spirits of dead kings are drawing on the soldiers to continue fight their battles. If that did not stunned Jen much, the answer she receives after asking how they can possibly know about the continuous fight leaves her speechless. And how else she could have reacted when the answer she receives was: “We know it, because, we are both dead”. Those kind of scenes will be plenty for you to absorb. In the meantime, all what you will see is sleeping solders, awake soldiers who will fall unconscious in the middle of a meal and dialogues that will take you to a whole different dimension.
In conclusion, CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR is a haunting film with hypnotic effect. It will make you to watch it with eyes wide open if you don’t want to fall asleep the same way as soldiers. Even if you still don’t know what’s it about, you will still continue watching it, because there is no other way existing. It has a beauty in beauty. The battle in the battle itself. There are questions that will be left hanging in the air. However, does it really matter what the answer is, if everything about it is the cemetery of splendour where Jen and Itt stand on?
Cemetery of Splendour will open in Toronto on March 11th at TIFF Bell Lightbox.