Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012)


Cemetery of Splendour, the latest feature from acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, debuts this week exclusively at the Northwest Film Forum. We’ll be talking about his work this weekend on The Frances Farmer Show, and if I can find the time I may actually review the new movie (short version: it’s pretty great, don’t miss it). But as a neat little bonus, the Film Forum is paring Cemetery of Splendour with Weerasethakul’s 2012 short feature Mekong Hotel, one of those movies that, at about 60 minutes in running time, was too long to be considered a short and too short to get a proper theatrical or home video release (see also Hong Sang-soo’s Hill of Freedom, which might have been his most popular film in North America if only it was 20 minutes longer). Mekong Hotel plays only twice, at 6:45 on Friday the 18th and again at 6:45 on Thursday the 24th. I caught it at the Vancouver International Film Festival back in 2012, and here is the brief review I wrote then:

Mekong Hotel was one of my most anticipated films coming into the festival, the first feature by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Joe) since his Cannes-winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (which I saw here at VIFF 2010). It’s partly bits of a story Weerasethakul had written years ago about a young couple who are haunted by a pob ghost throughout their lives (pob ghosts are spirits that eat the entrails of animals and humans, like a Thai chupacabra I guess), but most of the film is simply Joe and his actors and composer hanging out at the titular hotel overlooking the Mekong River, the border between Thailand and Laos, chatting about politics and how high the water will rise in this year’s floods. The composer, Chai Dhatana, noodles his score on a guitar throughout the movie, an ambling, aimless tune with hints of Southern blues that evokes not only the endless flow of the Mekong, but the Mississippi as well, both rivers oft-flooded borderlands conducive to lazy afternoon conversations and where the line between myth and reality is a little more porous than it probably should be. I have written down in my notes the line “device to allow your spirit to wander”. I don’t remember the context, who said it or what the device is, but it seems to me that that describes Joe’s movies pretty perfectly.