MEKONG HOTEL (Apichatpong Weerasethakul). 57 minutes. Opens Friday (January 18). Subtitled. For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's dreamy, magic-realist life studies aren't like other movies. They hide complex, multi-layered plots in simple exchanges of dialogue; they move forward and backward at once. The director creates a calm, eerie place for us to get lost in the worlds he creates.
His new short feature, Mekong Hotel, feels like a companion piece to 2010's amazing, Palme d'Or-winning fantasy Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Once again, the settings are picturesque but mundane - here, it's the Sam-Oar resort hotel in Nong Khai, on the Mekong River - while the events skew toward the supernatural.
To a soundtrack of Chai Bhatana's "Spanish-style" flamenco guitar noodling, Apichatpong's camera captures a series of encounters. A young man (Sakda Kaewbuadee) meets a young woman (Maiyatan Techaparn) and chats obliquely about his disembowelled dog. Later, the young woman sits with her mother (Jenjira Pongpas) in a hotel room and says she's missed her for hundreds of years. Are these actors rehearsing a script? Or is there something more complex happening?
Either interpretation is as valid as the other; Apichatpong seems even less concerned with making his world accessible to newcomers than he was in Boonmee. He's just following his bliss, drifting along the river, showing us what he sees.
Since Mekong Hotel runs just under an hour, it'll be paired at the Lightbox with another unusual TIFF 2012 selection, Athina Rachel Tsangari's The Capsule, a surreal short that finds the director of Attenberg playing with creation myths, physical humour and exquisite cinematography.