Who is he?
Thai writer, producer and filmmaker who has made six feature films and several short films and installations since the late 1990s. His features generally tend to be elliptical narratives while the short films and installations are thoroughly experimental avant-garde works. His last feature film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won the top prize at Cannes Film Festival in 2010.
Why is he of interest?
At a time when shooting and projecting on film has become passé, Weerasethakul’s cinema, both with its aesthetic choices and thematic concerns, makes a strong case for making movies on film stock. His contemplative brand of cinema has now been collectively recognised as a major cinematic achievement in the international film scene that’s both highly personal and formally astute.
Where to discover him?
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) is an episodic film in which the titular character, with a kidney failure, recalls his many incarnations across space and time. Weerasethakul’s greatest film draws inspiration from both the process of film (the idea of persistence of vision) and the intermittence of human sensory experience and weaves together a hypnotic tribute to cinema that both cherishes its past and celebrates what lies ahead.
What are his films about?
On a political level Weerasethakul’s films engage with Thailand’s repressed, bloody past, its current immigration situation and the recent political upheavals. However, his films primarily function as memoirs and love-letters to Nabua, the village he grew up in. They are also steeped in Buddhist spiritual values and deal with the idea of resurrection, which Weerasethakul sees as a quality inherent in cinema as well. Additionally, his love for older Thai cinema and folk culture feeds into his work and his films continually play with traditional genres, myths and folklores.
Weerasethakul’s films are full of binaries — countryside / city, past / present, living / non-living, modern / primitive, natural / man-made, dream / waking life and reality / fiction — and set up dialectical relationships between them. This is often reflected in the bipartite structure of the films, in which two seemingly unconnected narrative spaces reside alongside. He shoots with a regular set of actors in natural locations and in film (as opposed to digital video). He has an affinity for long shots, ambient sound, fluorescent light, lush locales and night scenes. His films frequently feature Thai pop music and exhibit an understated sense of humour.