VIFF 2012: Mother & Mekong Hotel

These two shortish films (about an hour long each) from Thailand were paired together here at VIFF, though they don’t have a whole lot in common other than a sensibility that mixes fiction and documentary, reality and mythology into a more or less seamlessly whole vision of the world as a place where anything is possible at any time.

Mother is an experimental film directed by Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul (Billy) and is part documentary about his own mother’s various health problems (mental and physical), part dramatization of some events that happened, part fiction and part fantasy.  The most striking bit is a long dream sequence, shot in black and white and scored with a harshly droning kind of minimalist music mixed with a chorus chanting by Thai composer Phil_WC, it sounded to me like some of the György Ligeti music Kubrick used in 2001.  Another sequence finds the mother in a grocery store grabbing things off the shelves apparently at random, the camera mounted on the shopping cart looking back at her, in the style of Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee.  Throughout the film there are hyper-extreme closeups of a person’s face, so close that they cease to be recognizable as human but instead become alien landscapes.  The documentary sequences are less successful, though certainly emotionally wrenching, they’re shot in a first-person shaky cam that mostly just made me dizzy.  Perhaps I’m just getting old.

Mekong Hotel was one of my most anticipated films coming into the festival, the first feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Joe) since his Cannes-winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (which I saw here at VIFF 2010).  It’s partly bits of a story Weerasethakul had written years ago about a young couple who are haunted by a pob ghost throughout their lives (pob ghosts are spirits that eat the entrails of animals and humans, like a Thai chupacabra I guess), but most of the film is simply Joe and his actors and composer hanging out at the titular hotel overlooking the Mekong River, the border between Thailand and Laos, chatting about politics and how high the water will rise in this year’s floods.  The composer, Chai Dhatana, noodles his score on a guitar throughout the movie, an ambling, aimless tune with hints of Southern blues that evokes not only the endless flow of the Mekong, but the Mississippi as well, both rivers oft-flooded borderlands conducive to lazy afternoon conversations and where the line between myth and reality is a little more porous than it probably should be.  I have written down in my notes the line “device to allow your spirit to wander”.  I don’t remember the context, who said it or what the device is, but it seems to me that that describes Joe’s movies pretty perfectly.

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