Friday, December 25, 2015
Director/writer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Photography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Editor: Lee Chatametikool
Cast: Kanokporn Tongaram, Min Oo, Jenjira Pongpas, Sa-gnad Chaiyapan, Kanitpat Premkij, Jaruwan Techasatiern
Blissfully Yours is a labor of love on numerous levels, a low budget project with all hands pitching in. Even members of the cast were helping out behind the camera. It has the feeling of something carefully tended and worried over—the shots, the camera movements, the nuances of performance. At the same time, the story (such as it is) is focused on abstracts, on love, and on life, which this movie seems to assert is love's extension. Most of the movies I've seen by director and writer Apichatpong Weerasethakul tend to operate this way (Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), focused on the invisible, the ineffable, the just beyond, moving with dreamy, intuitive, pastoral rhythms, an incidental penetrating sense for pop music sweetening, and gorgeous outdoors settings from deep inside disappearing Thai forests.
It's only Weerasethakul's second feature but already he is starting to play with the discontinuous two-act structure he often favors. It covers the events of a day shared by three people: Min, a young Burmese man who is in Thailand illegally, Roong, his temporary girlfriend who works in a factory, and Orn, a woman nearing 40 whose relation to them is not clear—something to do with Min's employment. It starts in a doctor's office, where Min's skin rash is being examined and treated. Roong speaks sharply to the doctor about the treatment plan, and the doctor speaks just as sharply back. Roong and Orn claim Min can't speak, but actually he doesn't want to give away his accent. Orn tries to get the doctor to sign a certificate that will enable Min to get a job, but the doctor refuses until she has seen his legal identification papers.
Later, Roong decides to take the rest of the day off from work to accompany Min on a day hike. She unexpectedly had to work long hours the day before and feels she deserves it. The titles for the movie play as they near the trailhead, nearly 45 minutes into the movie (late titles are also a familiar Weerasethakul strategy), along with the movie's only music, a gorgeous cover by the Thai performer Nadia of Marcus Valle's "Summer Samba (So Nice)." This two or three minutes of Min and Roong tooling down the highway with the music playing might be my favorite part of the whole movie. "Do you believe in ghosts?" Min asks Roong. "There are ghosts of Japanese soldiers here." (For maximum effect, read dialogue with song playing.)
There are ghosts of something there. Min and Roong enter the woods, he removes most of his clothes for relief from his skin rash, and they climb to a high point for a picnic lunch. Ants bother them. The view is amazing. Roong can't stop smiling at him—she is plainly infatuated, though there's also a sense it's somewhat shallow, based on his looks and his fit body. They decide to abandon the high spot to get away from the ants. Here, at about the halfway point of the movie, there is an abrupt cut to Orn making love outdoors with a man (not her husband), with whom she had earlier rendezvoused in the city. It is not particularly lovely, because they are not, but it is raw and vital, almost pornographic for the length of time it is simply observed. Later in the movie there is also "male full frontal nudity," which means a penis is seen.
Suddenly the man's motorcycle is stolen and he chases after the thieves, leaving Orn where they were. He doesn't come back for her and after a while Orn dresses and starts looking for the way out of the woods. This being a movie, eventually she bumps into Min and Roong by the side of a stream, who are more tentatively edging toward their own sexual scene. Roong leads Orn into the water and down the stream, splashing her and laughing. It's playful, but there's an edge of menace because it's not clear what she's doing. But then all appears innocent enough, and soon enough they are swimming and laughing together, and then they draw Min into the water too and apply lotion to his skin. After their exertions they leave the water and drift into longeurs for the afternoon: of physical fatigue, sexual release, sadness, regrets, tensions, the warm day so pleasant and yet slipping away from them. The end.
I find myself making the mistake of simply recounting the incidents, and apologies for any spoilers there, but the sequence of events always seems just a little out of reach. That's intentional, I think, the better to let us concentrate on the physical sense of being in such a specific "meaningless" time and place: one lazy afternoon on a very warm day in a Thai forest. These things happened to these people. I have to think it was at least in the back of Kelly Reichardt's mind when she made Old Joy, transposing the action and circumstances to Portland, Oregon. In its totality, especially the potent sense that everyone who worked on Blissfully Yours has for the deepest woods itself, how it feels to be alive and exist within this terrain, it's as dazzling as those three minutes of pop music in the car. That's a strange place to find the balancing point in a movie, three minutes of music versus some two hours of existing within the presence of sacred nature (including human nature concentrated in the city), but that's where I think it is. It's weird, but all part of what makes this movie as inscrutably beautiful as it is maddeningly elusive.