Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Thai surrealism

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is one of those fascinating filmmakers that emerge with a bang. The 40-year-old independent Thai director, writer and producer (who did postgraduate studies at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in the United States) first blasted into the spotlight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002 with «Blissfully Yours,» which received the Un Certain Regard award. He went on to make more splashes at the prestigious European festival with the Jury Prize in 2004 for «Tropical Malady» and the Palm d’Or this year for his metaphysical drama «Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.» Apichatpong will be in Thessaloniki to present his work, which will be screened from December 6-12, while he will also deliver a master class on Wednesday, December 8. Your work interweaves religion and legend. How great a role do they play in Thai culture? A very big one. The beliefs are very integrated into everyday life and people are always conscious of the law of karma, for example, and karma may be even above the real law. It’s very interesting and creates a situation that can be serious and funny at the same time. There are many things like this that can only happen in Thailand. It’s quite surreal sometimes. The authorities in your country have often opposed your work. How did you find your way around this kind of resistance? Not everyone in authority opposes my work; I have several supporters. The problem lies within the system, with their superiors, their bosses, who have no clue about culture, about film culture. So, people who support my work in the system cannot do anything about it. This problem of not understanding culture is manifest in the recent example of a new Thai film that has been banned because of its content; it has a transsexual in the role of the leading actor. For me, the film is a good reflection of society, but somehow it was banned, and now filmmakers and film lovers are fighting the government. For me, this is good news, this is a real push, whether it is happening to me or to another filmmaker. It’s an inspiration to fight. I want to witness the transformation of this society because, you know, we are still very conservative, but we are in a period of self-awareness, especially for young people. You are a human rights activist yet you manage to put your politics across in your work very subtly. Is this intentional or do you believe that silence can sometimes make more noise? I wouldn’t call myself a human rights activist. I haven’t involved myself in political actions. My films are not really a criticism, but simply a mirror of my life, which is quite far from politics, at least it used to be. Lately, maybe yes [there has been more political content] and I think in the future maybe there will be more. But what I do always has something to say in protest as regards film. So maybe my work is not about human rights, but about filmmakers’ rights. You like to play with consciousness and the subconscious. Are they two components that define the individual? Can one really go against the other? Yes, one is trained to go against the subconscious every day. My 2004 film, «Tropical Malady,» mainly talks about that. I open the film with a quote from the Japanese writer Ton Nakajima, in which he says: «All of us are by nature wild beasts. Our duty as human beings is to become like trainers who keep their animals in check.» This means we always have to suppress ourselves, our subconscious, to be able to live in society, and sometimes it’s not so healthy. In Asian culture, especially, we are expected to suppress it and this creates problems in the long term.

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