VOD Releases: Cemetery Of Splendor (2015) - Reviewed

Few films bother with exploring the ambiguous realm of dreams and their interpretations.  Weerasethakul's thoughtful and deeply poetic masterpiece defies conventional explanation, offering once in a lifetime visuals and a pulsing love story about the fundamentals of culture and endearment that is wonderfully elusive and rhythmically invigorating.  The premise involves soldiers who have succumbed to a disease in which they are imprisoned in sleep, endlessly battling the ghosts of Thailand's heritage.  A gentile nurse and an empathic psychic form a communal bond and embark on a languid quest to heal their wards which results in a sleepy, methodically adroit exploration of the soul. 

The presence that Weerasethakul employs in all of his films is more prevalent here than any of his previous works.  The camera, helmed by Diego Garcia, is both static and omnipotent, with takes varying in length and composition, never settling into any sense of predictability.  Neon lights hum over sleeping soldiers, bathing the screen in sharp purples and greens, while scenes of everyday life are sprinkled throughout to bridge the divide between fantasy and reality.  Gods walk the streets, cheerfully conversing with their supplicants while life turtles along, with common place hardships and cultural transgressions reflecting into the generational and economic divides that define Thailand's storied history.  Film is a medium that brings people together, creating a Jungian expanse in which patriotic subtleties can be communicated via imagery, and Cemetery of Splendor is the pinnacle of such concepts.  Our soldiers wrestle with the unseen demons of conflict, our caregivers struggle with faith and science, and our politicians remain distantly concerned.  These truths are universal, and Weerasethakul uses an arsenal of dreamy weaponry to entice his audience to accompany him on a peaceful sojourn.   

In any other director's hands, this would be a horror or hard science fiction offering, but Weerasethakul purposefully shies away from these genres to elicit an atmosphere of compassion that gently caresses the non-existent plot with delicate flourishes of distilled humanity.  The influence of Kurosawa's Dreams and Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad are undeniable, but Weerasethakul uses the complexities of the subconscious to mine his thoughts on the sociopolitical landscape of a historically rich culture that is struggling to meet the future, jettisoning Cemetery of Splendor into its own place in the pantheon of the surreal.  This is one of the few films where not only does the resolution not matter, but the journey to get there vastly more important.  Ominous displays of patriotism in an empty theater, vaudeville musical chairs on stone park benches and quirky, musical fitness regiments are but a sample of the wonders nestled within this carefully constructed semiotic exercise. 

Available now on Netflix, Cemetery of Splendor is the pinnacle of 2016 cinema. This is a film whose artistic presence walks off the screen and into the viewer's heart.   A deliberately mysterious film that relies on a berth of patience and resolve from the audience, Cemetery of Splendor is an act of beauty, a warm embrace that fills the cracks in between blockbuster titans and awards caliber drama to deliver an unforgettable treatise on the virtues of the human experience. 

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-Kyle Jonathan