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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been one of the most interesting filmmakers for a while now, having emerged as an important artistic voice from the New Wave in Thai cinema. While Weerasethakul’s films can be hard to get into, they tackle universal subjects ranging from the philosophy of dreams to sexuality.

Born in Bangkok, Weerasethakul’s childhood was deeply informed by the spiritual beliefs of his Buddhist family and those influences can be found throughout his body of work. In addition to the religious philosophy of Buddhism, Weerasethakul was also inspired by Dadaist art and even studied architecture in college.

If you want to get to know what the Thai New Wave is all about, the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul are the perfect place to begin your journey. Dreamy, sensual and imbued with a sense of magic that will transport you to separate universes, check out the films listed below in order to experience the essence of film art.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s six definitive films:

Blissfully Yours (2002)

Blissfully Yours was Weerasethakul’s sublime debut narrative feature which proved what he was capable of. It follows the strange condition of an Burmese immigrant who lives illegally in Thailand and finds himself in a tough spot.

After contracting a mysterious disease, he is taken to the doctor but he can’t express himself because his accent and his fluency will announce to the others that he is an illegal immigrant. A delicate romantic film, it ended up winning the Un Certain Regard at Cannes.

Tropical Malady (2004)

An arthouse masterpiece that transcends the limitations of genre, Tropical Malady paved the way for Weerasethakul’s later investigations. Divided into separate segments, the Thai auteur explores the spiritual aspects of the human condition.

The first part features the magical romance between two men who navigate the world together while the second segment is a mythological tale about a soldier who enters uncharted territory in a forest that is inhabited by ethereal entities.

Syndromes and a Century (2006)

Considered by many to be the crowning achievement of Weerasethakul’s mesmerising filmography, Syndromes and a Century exposed the filmmaker’s work to a wider global audience but it also generated a lot of controversy within the country.

Although it is viewed as a masterpiece by film fans, the Thai government ordered Weerasethakul to recut a few scenes for commercial release but the director refused to mutilate his own work which is why it was only shown in private screenings in Thailand.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives (2010)

One of the greatest winners of the Palme d’Or in the illustrious history of the Cannes film festival, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives is the culmination of the artistic concerns that have operated within the rest of Weerasethakul’s works.

A cinematic meditation on the subject of reincarnation and other Buddhist schools of thought, the film launches a powerful journey into death and decay as we are confronted with one of the most unsettling themes in cinema – human mortality.

Cemetery of Splendour (2015)

Some films have their own rhythm and they use that rhythm to slowly lull you into a world that is totally separate from ours. Cemetery of Splendour is one of those gems, inviting the audience to inhabit a space that is populated by sleeping soldiers.

Weerasethakul situates us in the playground of memories and dreams where soldiers suffering from a strange sleeping sickness drift in and out of consciousness, oscillating between the domain of real hallucinations and the illusions of our reality.

Memoria (2021)

Memoria is the latest project by Weerasethakul which garnered a lot of attention last year. The film stars Tilda Swinton as a Scottish expat in Colombia who embarks on a unique spiritual journey while searching for something that eludes her.

What starts out as a quest to identify a sound that haunts her, she meanders along her path while engaging in surreal encounters as the structures of memory rearrange themselves around her. By the end, we can no longer take reality for granted which is always guaranteed in a Weerasethakul work.