Cannes 2012. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Mekong Hotel"

A small feature film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul imaginatively uses minor means to unite strands of documentary and fiction.
Daniel Kasman

Mekong Hotel

Mekong Hotel, like Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives before it, absorbs and re-interprets past projects realized (or not) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. A short feature which bridges the imaginary gap between an unrealized screenplay, meagre means, digital cinema, and a roundabout collection of seemingly unrelated interests, the Thai director once again comes up with something unexpected and something hybrid. Part multi-generational ghost-vampire story (an as-yet unrealized's hoping), part documentary of a hotel on the Mekong river, part (fake?) behind the scenes of a production of...something (the documentary? the genre film?), part excuse to play a wash of relaxing, improvised guitar music across the nearly hour long runtime, the film takes slivers of ideas of high fiction, documentary, actuality and the regional-historic and not so much pares those ideas down as creates with the most limited means suggestions of that which could be and now, paradoxically, is, at a slant. The river floats by in the background of most shots—including the dynamically relaxing, entrancing final shot, reminiscent of recent Ernie Gehr New York harbor films, of the digitally-pulsating river motion and circulating vessels—each bare strand of the film is introduced and then, as if forgotten, left, and traces later recalled. Intestines are eaten by possessed ghosts in one section; Apichatpong's regular actress Jenjira Pongas recalls, in a staged interview while crocheting a pink object in front of the river lit by the setting sun, her days as an eighteen year old girl being trained by the Thai government to shoot an M16; the film's actor discusses with an off-camera director which graphic t-shirt to wear as a costume; and, placed behind it all and sometimes in front of the camera, is Chai Bhatana's warming, soothing guitar playing. The opening guitar tune—later subtitled as a rehearsal, then deemed “awful” by the player, who asks “where was I?”—proceeds to play over all these types of images, as if gathering, drawing together. His playing in fact synthesizes the stories and images much as the river, the hotel setting (similar to the dream-genre synthesis of the other Asian hotel film of 2012, Wakamatsu's Petrel Blue Hotel), and the film itself does, casually uniting the disparate, the false and the “facts,” old stories of ghosts and new ones of royal visits and local floods, all filmed in an identical mise-en-scène. It is a small film of disparate parts in flux but held in a fragile, wispy unity.

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