Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: ‘Exploding Head Syndrome is a really peculiar thing’

Let me close the… for the sound,” mutters Apichatpong Weerasethakul, as he heads towards the open window of his hotel room, shutting it tight to block out the street noise that’s floating up from below. It’s no surprise that this unique Thai soul prefers the sound of silence, and not simply because his work – films such as Tropical Malady and the Cannes-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives – is often so quietly contemplative. These past years, Weerasethakul has struggled with a noise-related medical condition: Exploding Head Syndrome.This disorientating psychological issue has found its way into his beguiling...
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The exquisite sound of nature in the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Watching an Apichatpong Weerasethakul film will put you in an undeniable, almost unfathomable trance. From his early work in Blissfully Yours right up to his English-language debut Memoria, the Palme d’Or-winning director has never shied away from creating challenging and mysterious pieces of slow cinema that contain unique commentaries on death and reincarnation. Throughout his career, Apichatpong has consistently utilised the rural settings of Thailand – and most recently of Colombia – and the world of sound which inhibits them to convey these intelligent themes and create an intoxicating atmosphere.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul on the Journey of Memoria, Tilda Swinton’s Devotion, and the Collective Theatrical Experience

Whether shooting in the enspirited jungles of his native Thailand or the mystical rainforests of Colombia, Apichatpong Weerasethakul has a sleeping problem. His head keeps exploding. Imagine a cannon in your brain with a will of its own, an ever-ticking time bomb detonating at random inside your skull. It’s called Exploding Head Syndrome and, well, it keeps him up. How precious is the peaceability of stillness when the alternative is bone-rattling booms? The silver lining: he’s been busy.

'Memoria' Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul Is Haunted by Sound

You've never seen—or heard—anything like the films that Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes. Weerasethakul (who is often referred to in the West by his nickname "Joe," as his full name can be difficult for our clumsy mouths to pronounce) makes movies that can only be described as "experiences," but in the complete opposite way from the way in which an action epic or a superhero movie is an experience. Famous for his lengthy takes in which a stationary camera simply observes whatever is happening in front of it, whether that's cars in a parking lot with their alarms going off or trees in a jungle leaning with the wind or people sleeping in hospital beds while fluorescent lights change color, the director is known for making films that feel like dreams. He exploded onto the international scene with his sixth feature, the 2010 fantasy Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which won the Palme d'Or, followed it up with the otherworldly Cemetery of Splendour in 2015, and since then any new release of his is considered unmissable by the cinephiles who know what's up.

“…Even If the Wind Blows It Gives Us Something To Work With”: DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom on Shooting Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is an impenetrable interviewee, shrugging off my most premeditated questions. I get it, how many ways can you talk about your creative process or the equipment you rented for a film? When I asked him what lights he used on Memoria, he named an Arri Skypanel and left the rest, “the usual,” to my imagination. As I learned from our talk on Suspiria, which he dialed into from his friend’s unruly wedding party via Skype, Sayombhu prefers flexibility, creating lighting environments that are open to how the director and actors react to them, each other, and the material. Listening as a DP—“That’s the point,” as he’d say, more than tools, intentions, and whether the chicken came before the egg (“Did they always plan to shoot so and so this way? Or did they discover it on the day?” etc.).