Three images above: Blissfully Yours
Three images above: Tropical Malady
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (writer and director) Sud sanaeha (Blissfully Yours) / 2002
Apichatpong's film, Blissfully Yours, won Un Certain Regard prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, prognostic of his being awarded the 2010 Palme d'Or for his most recent film. Many critics have understandably praised the 2002 picture as a beautifully, slow-paced, idyll.
Perhaps they saw another film, however, than the one I watched again the other afternoon on my DVD. Yes, it is a beautiful film, and it is certainly slow-paced with regard to what most people think of as "story"—the credits do not appear until 45 minutes into the film. But, as he made apparent in Tropical Malady, Apichatpong does not tell his story through action or language, but through image and gesture, gestures often so small that they do not even seem significant.
Min, evidently, suffers from psoriasis (he is shedding like a snake declares Roong), but the two women have replaced the doctor's prescribed lotion with cheap hand-softeners from the grocers. Similarly, Orn has replaced her prescription of sleeping pills with a over-the-counter mood control drug. Are they selling the real drugs? One can only wonder when, in the very next scene, Orn and Min visit Orn's husband at his office, where she mixes up a new batch of cheap lotion with vegetables that make the salve appear more like an avocado salad that a cure for his rash.
While Orn mixes her new concoction, Min waits, where one of the male office executives, attempts to flirt with him, encouraging Min to steal away with him for a sexual encounter. Min seems almost oblivious, and one wonders for a moment, if he might not take him up on his offer in the way that Tong casually accepts Keng's advances in Tropical Malady.
Min (who evidently briefly worked at the factory) has been told that he is banned from the grounds, but the gatekeepers seem happy to see him, as does the dog they keep. Roong, meanwhile, convinces her manager, after a series of questions, that she is ill, managing her escape. Exchanging her motorcycle with Orn's car, the two lovers, Roong and Min, are suddenly off for picnic in the country. Only now do credits appear, a Thai version of a Brazilian samba accompanying them.
It is also true that for much of the rest of the film, Apichatpong—taking us along in the journey away from this deprived society into the lush and tropical wonders of the jungle, where Roong and Min picnic, shyly make love, and soak up the sun—formulates his film in the context of a sexual idyll. But just as we may have missed a great deal of detail in the first part of the work, to characterize the rest of the film in that simple manner is to miss everything. This garden is, after all, not just any garden, but a special one for Min; he has clearly been here before. Here also lie fruit trees from which he begins to eat (in a clear reversal of the Adam and Eve story, which it recalls), before passing its berries on to Roong. But then, perhaps he is not, symbolically speaking, Adam, but is the serpent of the creation myth to which Roong has already compared him; his flaking skin is the major issue in the movie.
Presumably killed, he does not appear in the movie again, as Orn wanders forward in the undergrowth, ultimately showing up—her clothes torn, her skin scratched—at the very spot where Roong is now engaging in oral sex. Throughout, their romantic interlude, Min, his whole body affected by his shedding skin, is almost entirely passive. Only after Roong completes the act, does Orn move towards them.
Los Angeles, November 12, 2002; revised September 16, 2010
THE MAN OR THE TIGER?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul (writer and director) Tropical Malady / 2004
A malady, as we know, is "a disease or disorder of the animal body," in this case, presumably, caused by the heat of the tropics.
Only in the very first scene, before the credits, does the director give some clue to what will come, suggesting that we might be a little on edge in watching the bipartite film he has constructed. A group of soldiers, presumably out on maneuvers near the forest, come across a body that has just been killed. They wrap it and bring it back to some nearby farmers. As they travel, the observant viewer will notice a naked, tattooed man running nearby back into the forest. As Keng reports to the friendly country folk whom he has joined for supper, "The body will be bloated by morning."
Greed is our downfall. I was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The
woman won a lot of money but wouldn't stop playing. She lost and got
only 30,000 Baht.
Here, as elsewhere, Weerasethaku suggests that not everything we see—which he makes certain we see in the most beautiful light imaginable—is as it seems. Tong is fearful of memories, Keng afraid of taking chances in life (he refuses to try a narrow path out of the Buddhist cave). Tong hints, only through a photograph from his own days of being in the military, of a previous relationship, while Keng resents his refusal to visit the military camp. Tong's beloved dog is found dying on the road. Most of the reviewers that I have read describe the final scene between the two as consisting of Tong simply walking away into the darkness, but, in fact, the scene immediately after shows Keng and his soldier friends in a truck on their way out of town—their commander has returned and their idle time is finished. It is not Tong that leaves, I would argue, but Keng.
When Keng awakes, he returns to the hunt, experiencing odd visions, and, eventually losing his rifle. In the last few moments we see Keng beneath a tree, upon which sits the tiger. Keng bows, offering up his life, willing to give up his blood to the beast in order that he might join him. The ending may be equivocal, but the meaning of the tale is not. Love may be a supreme pleasure, but it also entails a sacrificing of self. In the end we do not quite know whether Keng has found the man or the tiger, but he has discovered the core of love.
Los Angeles, August 29, 2010