People inhabiting places: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Mekong Hotel” and Vladimir Todorovic’s “Disappearing Landscape”

Mekong Hotel (2012).

Mekong Hotel (2012). Photo: IFFR.

The Mekong river is ever silent, always moving and giving life to its banks, vegetation and animals. Along its way, a sturdy hotel stands in Thailand, permanently inhabited by stories and ghosts of past visitors. Staying the night means interlocking with the history of the place.

Switch to Singapore: humongous block buildings, motor ways and loading docks dominate the land. Messages (SLOW, SPEED CAMERA) turn ordinary language as alien as the objects feel huge and foreign. You cannot leave your mark anywhere.

Poetic and thoroughly impressive cinematic works, Mekong Hotel and Disappearing Landscape share many things. Both films study people and their relationships to their surroundings. Both avoid traditional, symmetric shot-reverse shots. Takes are unusually long and editing is sparse, camera still and framing elaborate. Greenish night and twilight are among the most popular hues.

Both films belong to the top of the 2013 IFFR’s selection.

Disappearing Landscape (2013).

Disappearing Landscape (2013). Photo: IFFR.

World-famous Thailandian director Apichatpong Weerasethakul continues in Mekong Hotel the themes of his past films, of which Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), a lucid celluloid dream of reincarnation and family ties, won him a Palme d’Or.

Mekong Hotel is just the perfect holiday spot. Diegetic music, produced by a classical guitar player, soothes us into the lives of the inhabitants: two young couples, artists and Aunt Jean, who just might be a Pob, an all-devouring female ghost. Dialogue marries military history, government’s flood politics and everyday worries about which T-shirt should I wear without any worries.

Most striking is the universal kindness, respect for things slow and past generations found in Weerasethakul’s oeuvre.

Serbian visual artist Vladimir Todorovic formed his second feature of three parts: starting from Singapore, a relatively new supercity, through rural Serbia and landing in the old continent Barcelona. Often people move through spaces, rather than inhabit them. Human connection, however, can make a home out of any place.

In a few scenes, modernist architecture shakes hands with hard surfaces which are tainted with posters. Leaving your mark is, after all, possible.

Cosplay photoshoot in Disappearing Landscape. A sign of alienation and the power of human imagination? Photo: IFFR.

Cosplay photoshoot – Sign of alienation or the power of human imagination? From in Disappearing Landscape (2013). Photo: IFFR.


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