The opening shot from writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is packed so full of visual information that it would take a mausoleum to house it all. From the distanced perspective of a front porch, we watch as soldiers oversee a pair of earth-grinding steam shovels. The veranda is attached to a small elementary school — temporarily transformed into a military hospital — that houses a group of vets felled by a bafflingly incurable sleeping sickness. Outside, the mechanical claws devour dirt in search of the “cemetery of kings,” a mythic graveyard buried beneath the schoolyard that could house a cure for the sudden somnolence. An odd alliance is struck between patriotic volunteer Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) and Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), a local psychic and/or FBI mole who is down on her luck and temporarily employed by the government to aid with the investigation. The deliberate pace, unostentatious camera placement, and refusal to cut in for a closeup add a surreal serenity; Weerasethakul never once forces his character’s emotions down our throat. Given the cultural boundaries, there is much in the film that we may never fully grasp, but the less we’re told, the more were sucked in by the film’s hypnotic, ever-expanding aura of mystery. In Thai with English subtitles.
Length: 2 hours, 2 minutes