Everything or nothing can be read into Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Mekong Hotel,” a docu-fiction that mounts scene after starkly composed scene of two people perched over railings overlooking the placid Mekong River while straddling various parallel realities. A 59-minute offshoot of a shelved film project, the pic plays like a bonus track to the Thai auteur’s Palme d’Or winner, “Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” its esoteric symbiosis of Thai folk culture, spiritualism and current sociopolitical conditions simplified, but no less mystifying. Cineastes will check into “Hotel,” but few markets have room for this strictly arthouse item.
The pic’s source is “Ecstasy Garden,” a stalled feature with supernatural elements developed by Weerasethakul in 2002, and inspired by the life experiences and tales of leading thesp Jenjira Pongpas, who also appeared in “Uncle Boonmee.” “Hotel” is a reworking of select rehearsal scenes, offscreen documentary footage and other fictional elements.
At the Mekong Hotel, in northeast Thailand, where the country borders with Laos, Tong (Sakda Kaewattana) and Phon (Maiyatan Techaparn) lean out of balconies, pavilions and promenade balustrades to enjoy the river view while contemplating love, reincarnation and folktales they heard as children.
Inside the rooms, Phon communicates with her mother (Pongpas), who is dead but behaves like any normal person, knitting or recounting memories from her youth. Meanwhile, news of a catastrophic flood ravaging Bangkok seeps into their casual chats via TV broadcasts. In another dimension, “Pob ghosts,” a kind of malevolent Thai spirit, possess the protags, making them greedily yet surreptitiously devour raw offal.
The pic was shot during the prolonged flood in 2011. There are critical references to the government’s shoddy handling of the disaster, and tension between Thailand and Laos caused by an influx of refugees in the 1970s. The eerie scenes of ghosts, gripped by such insatiable hunger they could rip out and eat their offspring’s organs, are subliminally powerful allusions to the country’s greed and corruption.
Languor is no stranger to Weerasethakul’s oeuvre, but it registers especially strongly in this work as an eye-of-the-storm psychological stasis induced by the nation’s recent national and political crises. This symbolic inertia is reinforced by the film’s sleepy rhythm, recurring images of protags in supine positions and a proliferation of symmetrically framed static shots.
The river figures as an impassive, motionless entity, shot by a camera that stares down from the hotel’s vantage point like an omniscient observer. This also exerts a numbing impact on auds, and is taken to an extreme conclusion.
Tech credits are fine, though the classical and blues guitar soundtrack is overused.