Apichatpong Weerasethakul made a huge comeback to Cannes today with two screenings of his new film CEMETERY OF SPLENDOR, a new feature-length drama about soldiers suffering from mysterious sickness that makes them sleep. The soldiers get transferred to a temporary clinic in a former school. Housewife and nurse’s volunteer Jenjira (played by Jenjira Widner) is gradually pulled into the strange mystery of these sleeping soldiers as she watches over one in particular by the name of Itt, a handsome soldier with no family visitors.
In CEMETERY we’re indirectly confronted to a dream-like world peopled by thousand year-old spirits. Weerasethakul leaves it to the viewer’s imagination, with only the faintest of hints pointing to the ethereal quality of the film’s atmosphere.
When Jen becomes friends with a young clairvoyant named Keng who uses her powers, acquired during childhood, to help loved ones communicate with the sleeping men conversations about the history of the grounds where the hospital lays take place and lead to new discoveries as they walk together in the woods surrounding the clinic.
Meanwhile at the clinic, doctors explore different therapies to ease the mens’ apparently troubled dreams. Adding to the mystery, Jen discovers a notebook, Itt’s diary, that’s filled with oodles and writings. Eventually we find out that there may be a connection between the soldiers’ sleeping sickness and the grounds that lie beneath the clinic.
At the end of the opening screening this morning Weerasethakul, whose film is not in the competition section but rather in the Un Certain Regard non-competition program, got feted and then some. Everyone present in the theater (orchestra and balcony) gave him a long standing ovation, marking the comeback of an eminent filmmaker (Weerasethakul won the Palme D’Or three years ago for his film “Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives.” The year was 2010.