Cemetery of Splendour

Cemetery of Splendour

Cemetery of Splendour (Thaïlande, 2015), un film de Apichatpong Weerasethakul avec Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram. Durée : 2h02. Sortie France : 2 septembre 2015. Produit par Kick the Machine Films et distribué par Pyramide.

Très beau film d’Apichatpong Weerasethakul, qui continue de creuser le filon qui lui va bien : l’exploration du sommeil et des songes, qui sont moins une voie de sortie du monde que la seule vraie manière de l’habiter et de le comprendre. L’action se situe dans une ancienne école reconvertie en hôpital, où son couchés des soldats thaïlandais atteints d’une étrange maladie du sommeil. S’ils se réveillent ponctuellement, c’est pour mieux replonger ensuite, en piquant du nez au milieu d’une phrase ou une fourchette à la main. Une vieille femme se charge bénévolement de veiller sur ces hommes, au milieu des grandes et mystérieuses lampes tantôt rouges, tantôt vertes ou jaunes, qui éclairent la pièce et sont sensés améliorer le sommeil des combattants – à défaut de les en sortir. Bientôt apparaissent, à la manière du défunt grand-père dans Oncle Boonmee, deux divinités qui expliquent à la vieille dame que l’hôpital temporaire est construit sur un ancien cimetière, et que les esprits de rois thaïlandais aspirent l’énergie des soldats pour mener leurs combats par-delà la mort. De fait à l’extérieur du bâtiment, des pelleteuses s’agitent sans fin et retournent la terre, sans qu’on sache si c’est pour détruite le bâtiment ou pour en construire un nouveau. Comme le dit Morgan Pokée dans son article sur Critikat, cette présence de la terre qu’on retourne à la fois comme pour enterrer ses morts et pour ensemencer un champ, donne une image très juste d’un cinéma qui trouve sa fertilité et son principe poétique dans la superposition de plusieurs strates de signification. Le sommeil fonctionne comme un voile posé sur le monde et sur sa perception par les personnages, dont il dévoile l’immense potentiel mélancolique, merveilleux (quand l’esprit d’un des soldats, dont la vieille tombe doucement amoureuse, s’incarne dans une jeune femme chaman qui se met à la guider à travers la forêt qu’elle décrit comme un palais gigantesque), voire érotique (quand la même jeune femme se met à lui lécher sa jambe boiteuse, dans une scène troublante de sensualité). Dans ses interviews comme dans son approche de la fabrication du film, Apichatpong fait toujours preuve de beaucoup de simplicité, clarté et empathie. Il travaille toujours avec la même actrice, Jenjira Pongpas, à qui il emprunte des éléments de sa vie personnelle (notamment son mari venu des États-Unis, rencontré sur Internet). Son interview à Hollywood Reporter est sympa :

Many films working in the surrealist tradition, or art film genre, use nonlinear structure or surrealist techniques to implicitly challenge the viewer in some way. Your work often has those elements, but there’s also a sensual warmth or embracive quality. For me, it’s all inspired by living here in northern Thailand. The country forces you to see things beyond the ordinary. It’s like we are living not only on one plane of reality, but also this spiritual plane. We have quite a strong influence from Hinduism and animism. Especially in Isan, in the northeast. There is a strong Khmer influence, coupled with the place itself, which is hot, harsh and pretty dry. It forces people to crave for fantasy or the supernatural. I try to look at the mundane and think about how I can use cinema to bring out the magic that’s very familiar to us in this place.

The way you use ambient sound conveys your themes of connectedness and the living richness of your settings in a very potent way. How has your approach to sound design evolved? I’ve worked with the same sound designer forever, Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr. Over the years we have accumulated our preferences. He knows what tonal range I prefer and exactly what kind of bird, for example, should come in when. I don’t know their names, but there are specific birds, crickets and cicadas that we really like. It’s very hard to find many of these sounds. One time, he went to mix at the sound studio in Bangkok and discovered that a Vietnamese production was using his sound library because it was still in the hard drive there. I was really mad, because he spent years working in the field and the jungle getting these sounds and details. It’s his private library.

How did it feel to return to your hometown to work after so many years and so many experiences and accolades abroad? It was very emotional for me. But I also really enjoyed working on this film. With Uncle Boonmee, I was quite lost and it felt like a pretty abstract process. For this film, it all went smoothly and I knew exactly what I wanted to show. The overall feeling is this unexplainable mixture of both sadness and happiness. For me, it’s the sadness of Thailand, which is sinking, because of the political situation — the repetition of coups and the coming to power of the military junta that now rules the country. The inequality and the way people treat each other here makes me very sad. But at the same time, there’s so much humor here. You’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. I’m really curious about how people will react to this film.

More so than with your other films? Yes, because to me, it works on many layers — abstraction, history and just straightforward storytelling. At the test screenings, people seemed to need time to adjust. It was all quite liberating for me, but we’ll have to see how people respond. The film features this idea of sleeping as an escape from reality — for the characters, for the country and also for the audience. The film has an element of hypnotism that I hope the audience can feel — like the whole film is a hypnotist session. I once did some research into the sleep cycle and the four phases that we pass through every night. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes, which is the length of a film. Maybe the shape of cinema evolved to match this natural, biological function. I like the idea that the length of a film matches what our brains expect a dream to be.

Does the fact that she’s partly telling her own story help you bring something more authentic out of her as an actress? Yes, exactly. Also, it works as record for me, as my diary. It’s much more comfortable to have someone in mind when writing. To experience the storytelling together, like in a family. It starts as early as the casting process. Sometimes he or she doesn’t have to fit the character I had in mind — if they have an interesting experience of their own, that’s more important to me. Bringing out and sharing their real stories, that’s the joy of making films.

How do you begin writing a film? It’s fairly organic. It took quite a few years for me to make this film because I had so many ideas. I wrote two other film treatments but selected this one. I start from sleep. I observe my dreams and I write down what I can remember. I try to find the logic, even though it’s never really logical. Dreams are so subtle. Many times when you see such things in a film, the special effects are very apparent — or, what’s supposed to be supernatural is very apparent. But dreams aren’t like movies in that way. The supernatural has the same feeling as reality in a dream. I try to start writing in this way.

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