Having recently delved into some films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, I’m finding him such a rich director on so many levels. While he usually gets lumped in the CCC crowd, I see much more of an influence from Kubrick and other formalists.
Specifically referring to Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and A Century; this consistent use of a distinct and separate second half to comment upon the first half is structurally refreshing and encourages thematic readings across his films.
Thematically, they all delve into the idea of reverting to a natural state. Blissfully Yours (which I am not as impressed by as the other two) uses a natural location to allow a relationship to be looked at more clearly. Malady (my favorite) calls on primal myths to show modern human mating rituals in a very different light. Syndromes asks how industrialization had distorted human interactions (a common idea in film that is rarely handled this well.)
I’d like to hear other opinions on both Weerasethakul’s use of structure and other director’s who also utilize consistent formal structures to advance themes throughout their works.
The second half is usually a repetition of the first half in, as you point out, a more naturalized setting. I don’t think I’d necessarily call them wholly distinct, certainly not separate, given that element.
The most interesting thing about this element of his cinema is how he could use these breaks in narrative structure to create an emotional resonance not created in the other half of the film; the poetic romanticism vs. the raw emotion in Tropical Malady, the cold, cleanness vs. the elegaic, proletarian warmth in Syndromes and a Century. And of course all of this culminates in his triptych Primitive; Phantoms of Nabua, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. All of which rely on multiple narrative strains being told at once and creating an incredibly complex emotional substructure within each scene, each shot of each film.
And he doesn’t get ‘lumped in’ with ‘CCC’. At least according to Tuttle he’s one of the founding figures of the form. If you accept that ‘CCC’ is a valid term for a supposed movement in modern art cinema claiming Weerasthekul gets ‘lumped in’ with them would be akin to claiming Godard gets ‘lumped in’ with the New Wave.
I’ve never heard Weerasethakul mention Kubrick (and I’d be incredibly surprised if I ever did), but I know he cites Kiarostami as a major influence. Who is another filmmaker Tuttle cites as a founding figure of this so-called movement.
Like any genre, I suspect CCC can have a somewhat elastic meaning, but I usually think of elements like narrative being secondary to mood, long takes and limited dialogue. Weerasethakul, on the other hand, has very intricate plots and plenty of conversation.
It’s interesting to hear that his shorts utilize simultanious narrative strains and I look forward to seeing how that gets pulled off.
It’s more about usage of narrative, rather than its lack (pretty much anyone has ‘complex plots’ if you get far enough down the rabbit hole).
Downplayed dialogue (more important than its lack; Puiu loads his films with dialogue and is also considered a major figure by Tuttle), lack of clear narrative resolution, music not playing an emotive/narrative pushing role, no voiceover, or traditional dramatic tropes, etc.. Combined with a long-take, long-shot aesthetic (Uncle Boonmee has an ASL of over 34 seconds).
The debate over whether it is a genre or a combination of cultural coincidence and cinematic influence is to be had. But it’s almost undeniable that, if one accepts these elements as the creation of a distinct genre, not only does Joe use them wholeheartedly, he’s influenced a large number of young filmmakers in the so-called ‘CCC’ vein that have come after him.
I’m glad to hear you’re getting along with Apichatpong’s cinema, Brad! It seems Wu has already covered quite a bit of territory in two posts. It definitely seems like Apichatpong is moving into a new era of his oeuvre, moving on from his bifurcated works into more complex structures, and as many have noted, moving towards increasingly political filmmaking, though any political notions still feel overwhelmed by mood and ambiguity. Have you watched Ashes?
I think of the second half of TM as a mythic repetition of the first half, showing that what seemed to be prosaic in the first half was actually life or death business. I love his films.
“…moving towards increasingly political filmmaking…”
That’s something that’s interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a move into politics, but it has become more of a focus since Syndromes.Mysterious Object at Noon’s fiction narrative takes place during a war, a civil war I think, constant reference to the military is made on the radio if memory serves (though I should rewatch the film), which is an idea carried into Uncle Boonmee. And Blissfully Yours is about an illegal worker, which is another theme continued in Phantoms of Nabua and Uncle Boonmee.
Adam, just gave Ashes a watch before work and it’s certainly got it’s own compelling visual language. Wasn’t able to garner anything deep meaning from the everyday activities (although many individual shots were compelling), but I’m thinking I missed something.
For me, Wu, a vague political context has permeated his entire body of work, but more recently he seems to be a bit restless with that vagueness and has teased the idea of being more explicit and/or allegorical. Lets see what he does next.
I love the rhythm of Ashes that he’s able to create with the brief shot lengths of the Lomokino…