Weerasethakul's films always grow on me; I keep thinking about them long after I've seen them, and Cemetery is no exception.
Its his most restrained, most suggestive and most self-reflexive, almost to the point of hyper-reality. We never see the ghosts or spirits that appear in his previous films, instead the gods appear in the flesh. In one scene, we see two young women come up to Jenjira, our main protagonist, and after talking for a bit she realizes they are the gods she was praying to earlier. In another instance, after a sleeping soldier's "personality" is transferred to the body of a psychic girl, he/she shows Jenjira the place of the palace, which we see is actually a public park with statues about. The royal bathroom is a layer of leaves on the ground.
Jenjira is an older woman with a disabled leg and no children of her own. She becomes attached to one particular soldier in the corner of the school room, who suffers from a form of sleeping sickness. Since no family visits him, she stays by his side as if she was his own mother.
In their first meeting, the psychic girl tells Jenjira about her abilities; how she is able to tell the soldiers relatives what they're up to in their sleeping lives. She also tells Jenjira how, in her own past life, she was a boy who fell from a tree and died. This is the same story in "Syndromes and a Century", where the dentist tells the story of his brother who fell and died from climbing a tree. These stories seem to repeat themselves for Joe, (the director's nickname), as he himself has said, its a story that he keeps hearing in this same village. The psychic girl tells Jenjira to open her eyes wide, as if all the strangeness and otherworldly things are all visible in the real world if we look hard enough.
The somnambulist pacing of the film reflects the atmosphere of the sleeping soldiers in this small Thai village. The fans in the schoolroom, the propellers in the water, the beautiful neon glow of the machines that help the soldiers have better dreams, we watch as they slowly change color. Its as if Joe is hypnotizing us as well.
In a surreal scene, Jenjira and the soldier, Itt, are at the cinemas watching a film that is the total opposite of Cemetery; full of explosions, b-grade special effects and fast action. The angle is from behind, with part of the film in frame. It instantly reminded me of Rene Magritte's painting "Not to be Reproduced" (La Reproduction interdite, 1937). We are watching a film, watching them watch a film. After the film ends, the audience members stand up waiting for something. They wait for what seems like an absurd amount of time, as if they were standing up asleep. (They are actually waiting for the King's Anthem, but it never arrives.) A hint of political criticism.
Despite all the subtle layers intricately embedded in his films, sometimes I think Joe just wants to promote good health and happiness. We see people exercising in the public park, similar to the enigmatic ending of "Syndromes and a Century", albeit this time to more laid back music provided by DJ Soulscape. He is always able to capture a specific time and place while at the same time referencing past lives, as if both co-exist.
If this is the first film you have seen from him, it may be difficult to access, but fans of his previous work will enjoy this more subtle, but nonetheless, absorbing film.