One wonders if the moment before death is much like the moment before one sleeps. What I mean is this: When one enters the world of dreams, there are still hints of the real world—hard things, Newtonian laws, birds that don’t talk, and so on. The point of transition is where the surreal and real slip, slide, and blend. The films of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul often take place in this zone of the surreal and the real, but instead it being between the world of the awake and the one of slumber, it is between the world of the quick and the dead.
His masterpiece in this regard is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a film that won the Palme d'Or. Weerasethakul’s latest work, Cemetery of Splendor returns to this twilight zone, but this time there is less magic, less wonder. The film is set in a hospital occupied by soldiers suffering from some strange sleeping illness. There is also some disease that is spreading across the country. There is a scene of a person taking a very long shit in the jungle. Things are not right in this place and time. The hospital ward also contains sci-fi-like elements. We are told that the luminescent machines next to the hospital beds are used by American soldiers in Afghanistan.
What all of this feels like, in fact, is the last moments of a fatally wounded soldier. He is in bed, he is breathing heavily, he comes in and out of consciousness. Cemetery of Splendor is not as fascinating as Uncle Boonmee, but many of its relaxed (or even tranquil) scenes provide an opportunity to absorb Weerasethakul’s impressive eye for things and landscapes. Often, a hospital room has a window that holds a stunning view of the lush landscape of rural Thailand. These moments matter.