Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Apichatpong-a-rama: Mekong Hotel reviewed at Cannes, Ashes

It's pretty unusual for a short film to be the object of widespread media attention, but then Mekong Hotel isn't the usual short film. Directed by 2010 Cannes Palme d'Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who returns to the French Riviera film fest to premiere one of his latest works, the hour-long Mekong Hotel, which was shown in an out-of-competition "special screening".

Set in a hotel along the banks of the flooded Mekong, the experimental work weaves together the cast and crew workshopping an unproduced project called Ecstasy Garden, a young couple talking about their relationship, something about the gut-munching Phi Pob ghost (not the krasue as I mistakenly thought earlier) and some dude playing guitar.

There's plenty of reviews, and they are a mixed bag.

Nice things are said at IndieWire, Hammer to Nail, The L Magazine and the Toronto Star.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls it "interesting but indulgent" while The Observer's Jason Solomons notes:

It contains the literally immortal line: "I will be reborn as a horse and then several kinds of insect." It was screened after lunch in the hot Salle Bazin. On screen, the flies buzzed, the river flowed, the music played and the sun shone – I looked around and counted nine people blissfully asleep in my vicinity. Only for this Zen master director could one say that this reaction should be taken as some kind of compliment.

Maggie Lee, reviewing it for Variety, also picked up on Mekong Hotel's "sleepy rhythm".

But it's the film critic Neil Young, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, who's least enamoured by Mekong Hotel, calling it a "waterlogged squib" while referring to Apichatpong's 2007 short Luminous People, about the interment of funeral ashes in the Mekong, "which achieved much more in 15 minutes than Mekong Hotel manages at just under quadruple the length".

The big rumor that surrounded Mekong Hotel was whether Tilda Swinton was in the cast. Swinton was there at Cannes, but as part of the cast of the festival opener, Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson. Nope, Mekong just has some of Joei's usual suspects, like actress Jenjira Pongpas and actor Sakda Kaewbuadee. So maybe there will be another collaboration with Tilda, beyond  the weird little Film on the Rocks Yao Noi festival.

There's a further round-up and lots more background on Mekong Hotel at Fandor. There's also another Apichatpong film premiered at Cannes, though not officially as part of the festival. It's Ashes, a 20-minute short shot with the Lomokino 35mm-film camera.

It's supposedly available for free streaming at Mubi.com, but I couldn't get it to play on my crappy Thai Internet connection. Maybe the local ISP is censoring it because of the politically sensitive subject matter or maybe Mubi isn't allowing it to stream in Thailand for some reason.

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