Sunday, March 18, 2018

A.W. A Portrait of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, on the Criterion Channel

The tentatively titled Memoria will be Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first film shot outside Thailand, but the rain forests of Colombia do not look so very different from the settings of his previous films, particularly Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives. Weerasethakul openly wonders if he might lose his mojo in a foreign land, but he is convinced he needs the challenge of working outside his comfort zone. He is on a long location-scouting trip, but he has the company of actor-turned-filmmaker Connor Jesssup, who gives the auteur a casual documentary treatment befitting his impressionistic style in A. W. A Portrait of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which premieres tomorrow on the Criterion Channel (on Filmstruck).

Weerasethakul adopted the sensible nickname of “Joe” for expediency’s sake, but Weerasethakul still makes us thankful for the copy-and-paste function. He is one of a growing number of internationally renown filmmakers who is more widely watched abroad than in his native country, but Thai movie buffs really ought to give Cemetery of Splendor a try, because it his best work yet.

Jessup, best known as an actor in Falling Skies is a passionate admirer of Weerasethakul’s aesthetic, so he set out to profile his role model, but his subject often turns the camera back on him, because that is what natural-born filmmakers do. It is fitting though, because the short doc has a languid rhythm and intimate vibe very similar to Weerasethakul’s films. Jessup bows to convention by incorporating a number of clips from his subject’s film, including the Palme D’Or-winning Boonmee and Cemetery. However, even ardent fans might not recognize the extracts from the prolific Weerasethakul’s experimental shorts and art installation films, because it is hard to keep up with that kind of work.

If you dig Weerasethakul than you will be charmed by A.W., whereas those who are unfamiliar or standoffish towards his films might start to glean some appreciation from Jessup’s Portrait. The relatively economical running time of forty-seven minutes is also a point in its favor. It is nice to have this film for those who will be studying Weerasethakul in the future (as they surely will be), but it will not eclipse Corman’s World or the weirdly under-screened Rohmer in Paris on the honor roll of compulsively watchable documentaries about film directors. Recommended for Joe Weerasethakul fans, A. W. A Portrait of Apichatpong Weerasethakul starts streaming tomorrow (3/19) on the Criterion Channel/Filmstruck.