Arthouse darling Apichatpong Weerasethakul enjoys melding the animist, fantastical traditions of his native Thailand with a dreamy, resolutely personal take on modern narrative cinema - I've always liked to think of him like Wong Kar-wai if he'd gotten lost in the jungles of Borneo and surrendered to a sort of "sleeping sickness" (no wonder sleep, dreams and illnesses recur so often in Mr. Weerasethakul's films). The director has also been at the intersection of film and the arts in the current global cultural landscape, feeling equally at ease with narrative and non-linearity, art installations and traditional film.
Following his 2010 international breakthrough with the Cannes Palme d'Or Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the hour-long Mekong Hotel is a leisurely, mischievous stopgap, simultaneously throwback and throwaway, foiling what was expected of an auteur who had just been anointed by the world's most important film festival. A playful work that seems spontaneously improvised or whimsically constructed on location (but in fact reuses material created for an earlier project that never got off the ground), Mekong Hotel takes entirely place in a riverside hotel in the off-season, following the comings and goings of both real-life guests and phantom figures in a sort of "twilight zone".
The film evokes in passing the 2011 monsoon floods that affected Thailand, but remains strongly grounded in the place itself, with a sense - never truly explained or resolved - that everything happens in a series of super-imposed alternate realities with no interval or space between them; like an analogue multiverse where the same person can be a jobbing actor rehearsing a role, a visiting tourist and a man possessed by ghosts or demons within a same framework. Almost single-handedly created by Mr. Weerasethakul with a few of his regular cast members, Mekong Hotel is a "seize-the-moment" kind of film, looser and freer than a large-scale feature; a little holiday memento whose soulful roughness prevents it from being a fully-fledged "statement". It's a curious little work that completists and fans will appreciate more than the dabbler intrigued by Uncle Boonmee.
Thailand, United Kingdom, France, 2012
Cast Jenjira Pongpas, Maiyatan Techaparn, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Chai Bhatana, Chatchai Suban, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor and producer Mr. Weerasethakul; composer Mr. Bhatana; production companies Kick the Machine Films Company and Illuminations Films in association with ARTE France - La Lucarne
Screened June 4th 2015, Lisbon, DVD