[This essay was originally published in a brochure produced on the occasion of the Wexner Center for the Arts’ November 2004 Apichatpong Weersethakul retrospective. Weerasethakul was one of the 2004-05 Media Arts Residency Award recipients. The brochure also contained an original essay by Chuck Stephens.]

My Time Is Not Your Time

Now that cinema has securely entered into its second century, it has never been more in danger of losing sight of the sine qua non that separates it from all other arts and media. Film is beginning to merely seem like one of an increasingly large and interchangeable array of entertainment options. The small but expansive body of work by the young Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Joe) stands as a corrective against this contemporary attempt to homogenize acceptable storytelling possibilities. By fusing the strengths of experimental and narrative cinema traditions, Apichatpong creates films that eclipse what either method usually produces in isolation.

One of the multitudes of reasons why Joe’s films are so remarkable and valuable is that they could not exist in any form other than as cinema. Temporality and observed (or manipulated) reality are the amino acids of the cinematic form, and Joe reexamines these Bazinian notions to produce surprisingly simple and playful works that belie the sophisticated thoughtfulness that went into their production.

Coming out of a screening of Blissfully Yours, I entered into a conversation with a film critic friend. A person who believes somewhat rigidly in the primacy of the screenplay and dramatic structure, he conceded that the film was undeniably effective, fascinating, and original. He couldn’t fully embrace it, however, because he was unable to answer the question, “What is the film about?” My response, “It’s about two hours,” was only meant half-jokingly. This is ineffable cinema that is more experiential than intellectual. Unable to be expressed via any other mode of communication, the film uncannily resists being boiled down to a thesis statement.

Film Comment used to run a feature in their year-end wrap-up issue called “Moments Out of Time” where contributors would submit exquisite little grace notes that linger against the bustle of a film’s narrative drive. Joe’s films could all fit under the rubric “Moments Out of Time: The Movie.” They are full of the type of transcendent moments that most films have no time or patience for, but even more significantly, they capture fleeting moments of subjective time that have been given a temporary respite from the physics of objective time. If one believes the adage that time is a river then Apichatpong’s cinema strives to capture the eddies before they are swept back into the main current.

These comments barely begin to address the myriad riches contained within Joe’s films, from the skewering of the fiction/documentary dichotomy to the democratization of narrative to the overlap of the mythic and the quotidian and much more. Like a 21st century Lumière—and armed with the study of such disparate predecessors as Bruce Baillie, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, and classical Thai cinema—Apichatpong Weerasethakul allow us to see cinema anew.

© The Ohio State University/Wexner Center for the Arts. Reproduced by permission.

 Blissfully Yours   (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2002)