Set beside the Mekong River, Apichatpong’s new reverie features reincarnated lovers and a pesky ghost which eats human and animal entrails. With Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul’s Mother, in which the young director uses dramatised reconstructions and fantasy to portray his mentally ill mother.
Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.
Director-Producer-Screenwriter Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Executive Producers Simon Field, Keith Griffiths
With Jenjira Pongpas, Maiyatan Techaparn, Sakda Kaewbuadee
Sales The Match Factory
Apichatpong’s new reverie is set in a hotel overlooking the Mekong River, on Thailand’s border with Laos; the region was once flooded with refugees from the Laotian civil war, but the talk now is of floods in faraway Bangkok. The actors play out scenes from a script about reincarnated lovers (the girl’s mother is a pob ghost, who feeds on human and animal entrails) but sometimes chat and reminisce as themselves. Nobody would call this a blend of fiction and documentary, though: everything is equally real – or unreal.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul Q&A
Could you say something about the process of making Mekong Hotel?
My actress, Jenjira is from the city of Nong Khai. For the past few years she has moved back home to recuperate, after one of her legs was damaged in a motorcycle accident. I visited her from time to time at her house not far from the Mekong River. Sometimes the place would flood badly, sometimes it dried out. The river is living and communicating. I started to make photos and videos at her place, at the river. I stayed at various hotels during my visits. So I dreamt up a film about home, a temporary one or a comfort zone we shelter in; and the river that produces music.
Tell us a little about the music in the film that you chose to lay across the whole film in a very particular way. This is very unusual in your films. Who is the guitarist?
I wanted to try to go against what I was used to. I imagined music that flows like water. It is eternal and always transforming, with minute variations. The guitarist is a long-lost high-school friend whom I recently met. I found out he was teaching classical guitar and occasionally performed in bars. We had a lot to catch up on. To feature him and his creation in the film is like creating a dialogue with a friend with whom I shared a lot when we were young together in this north-eastern land.
Can you say something about the location? The Mekong River in the north-east of Thailand (where you shot Primitive and Uncle Boonmee) marks the border between Thailand and Laos. There has already been a reference to the relationship between Thai and Lao in your last feature, because Uncle Boonmee’s ‘carer’ is from Laos.
This place that we shot Mekong Hotel is a border town between Thailand and Laos. Both countries had seen big changes in the 60s-70s with the invasion of Communism. People used to be able to commute between the two countries easily, but after the civil war in Laos, it became a mysterious country, semi-isolated. The Mekong River is no longer a bridge, but a barrier. Prejudice towards Lao people grew in central Thailand and in the media. I guess because of this isolation and the wayward nationalism in Thailand.
Can you tell us a little more about Ecstasy Garden, scenes from which are being rehearsed in Mekong Hotel. Is it an abandoned project?
It is one of my impossibly expensive projects. I drafted it in 2002. Now and then, Jenjira’s daughter from Bangkok, Namphon, paid her a visit. The sight of the two women together reminded me of the story I had written called Ecstasy Garden. It focuses on a mother-daughter relationship through several centuries. The mother is of a vampire-like species from another planet who lives in Thailand’s north-east. In the story, the daughter was in love with a teenage man whose family owned a banana plantation. She did not realise her mother was a ghost. This ghost was like a vampire: it ate raw human and animal flesh. She kills and eats her own daughter while the daughter is at the height of her romance. Later, the mother’s alien spirit is kept in a clay pot underwater. Meanwhile, the daughter’s spirit keeps following her man in his various reincarnations, in different countries. All along the mother and daughter communicate telepathically.
Ecstasy Garden seems to have been a ghost story that relates specifically to the horror/ghost story tradition in Thai cinema? What is a Pob ghost?
A Pob ghost is a famous north-eastern kind of ghost. When ‘infected’ or ‘possessed’ by its spirit, a man or a woman becomes hungry for raw flesh and blood, wandering the village at night to gobble up the neighbours’ livestock. I grew up with this belief, hearing this and that person were Pobs. There is a series of Pob ghost movies that popularises Pob as a middle-age woman. The last instalment was just released last year in which the Pob is instructed by her doctor to become a vegetarian.
The synopsis of Mekong Hotel mentions your shuffling of ‘different realms’, Seen in terms of levels of ‘reality’ this seems very characteristic of many of your films but here you also speak of ‘fact and fiction’ and the film shifts constantly between the two.
I think I am pretending to mean reality when I say ‘fact’. But in movies, reality doesn’t exist. One is just trying to capture moments and reconstruct them to simulate your view, your understanding. This film is conscious of these layers and levels of distortion. So I think that it can be called a ‘documentary’ in a classical sense. It is a contemplation on making a fiction.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul biography
Born in Bangkok in 1970 and raised in the north-east of Thailand, he graduated locally in architecture, then took a master’s degree in filmmaking in Chicago. Since then he has been active both in the production and promotion of independent work outside the Thai studio system (hence the name of his own company, Kick the Machine), and has a substantial portfolio of video and installation work complementing the 16mm shorts and 35mm features listed below (his Phantoms of Nabua occupied the Gallery at BFI Southbank in 2010). His experimental semi-documentary, Mysterious Object at Noon, played the LFF in 2000, and he has returned regularly since. Uncle Boonmee..., part of the same cross-platform project as Phantoms of Nabua, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul filmography
1993 Bullet [s]
Vorakorn’s mother has severe mental and physical problems and is often in hospital. The 23-year-old director poetically mixes documentary, dramatised reconstructions and fantasy to support her in the only way he can.
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