On the day before the Cannes 2010 award ceremony, Together had the chance to talk to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the soon-to-be recipient of the Palme d’Or – the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival – for Loong Boonmee raleuk chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) (2010).
Together: How would you define your own cinema?
I make films for myself and to express my personal feelings. I believe that when I make movies, I have to make sure that it is through my movies that I really express myself, not through writing or talking to you.
How hard was the shoot for Loong Boonmee raleuk chat?
The difficulties came with trying to explain to the actors, some of whom were non-professionals, exactly what I wanted. Not only the actors, but the crew members too, because the film divides into six reels, and each reel has a different tone, a different style of lighting, acting style and camera work. To explain and achieve this was quite complicated, to tell the actors, ‘Okay, be natural, but not natural, like old-style acting’. Communication was difficult – I just asked the actors to recall movies they had enjoyed, and what they remembered about them. Movie making is a magic profession, and it is changing all the time. We worked as a family unit and, sometimes, we changed the script overnight. I think perhaps this gives the process fluidity.
‘The difficulties came with trying to explain to the actors, some of whom were non-professionals, exactly what I wanted’
What are your thoughts on the civil war in Bangkok, which involves the Red Shirts supporting the deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra?
It’s a class war, and it’s very complicated because it’s not only about underprivileged people voicing their concerns, there are also tycoons and politicians involved. It’s not as simple as poor versus rich, it’s more about power. It’s very hard for me to fathom, because it shows how we’ve been manipulated by the media since we were young, and this situation has forced us to rethink our beliefs and morals.
Do you believe in reincarnation?
It’s a possibility, but I cannot say 100 percent until there’s another level of scientific proof. I think that we don’t know very much about the workings of the mind – I believe in the power of meditation and I think that meditation is science. There is a progress to science, from Einstein onwards, and I believe that the next step is going to be anti-gravitational. After this will be the mind, I hope.
‘Relax! Open your mind up and just let the images flow’
What is the message of this movie?
Relax! Open your mind up and just let the images flow. People are different, they cannot be forced, and there are going to be those who shut off and those who share the sentiment. Me too, sometimes when I watch a commercial movie, I don’t understand it.
What is so special about northeast Thailand?
I grew up there and it’s a place that is pretty harsh. For the agricultural community, the soil and the weather are not so good, so many people migrate to Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket to join the labour force. People tend to look down on the poor, because in Thailand there is a big class difference, and that has contributed to civil unrest. The area is under-represented – this movie is unique because, if it was shown in Bangkok, few people would understand it because of our local dialect. In 2008, I had to work on an art project and I travelled along the Mekong river to see the differences between now and the past, an era that is very special to me. My parents are doctors, and they moved there when there was nothing. As doctor, after you graduate you have the choice where to go, and they chose this crazy area – they were really idealistic.
Are your films screened in Chiang Mai?
In Thailand we don’t have art-house cinemas, we have only multiplexes. Even I wouldn’t go to see my movies in that environment; the public expects different kinds of films there. One of my ambitions is to open an art-house cinema in Chiang Mai.
Is there another genre that attracts you?
Science fiction. I have envisaged a project called Utopia, and it’s about a snow landscape, it’s set in a nondescript time and involves the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, which is abandoned in the snow. Also, I would like to see old-generation female science fiction actresses such as Brigitte Bardot or Jane Fonda to explore this landscape.