On Mubi, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest film, a 20 min short called Ashes is available to watch for free: Ashes – Movie info: cast, reviews, trailer on mubi.com. I just watched it and I don’t know what to think. I hated it at first (the first 10 mins at least), because it’s so jumpy. Image after image, like the film is at war with itself. It made me feel like I was having a seizure. That said, the images, on their own, are incredibly vivid and beautiful. The colour palette, the range, the lighting, the quality of the film: all these things are extraordinary. The second half of the film, once the soft music kicks in and the turbulent film cuts cease, is quite powerful. I just wish the film wasn’t such a sensory nightmare — visual cacophony — for half of it.
That said, it reminds me of something like Pink Floyd’s Echoes, one of my favourite songs of all time, which has a nightmarish middle half that segues into a beautiful—transcendental—peaceful expression of art through music. It’s that contrast, and the slow transition to peace that makes it so moving — just like how the second half of ashes renders its power and impressiveness by contrast with the jarring yet beautiful intricacies of the first half. While it’s difficult, and perhaps unpleasant to watch, one recognizes the essential nature of the cacophony to the work as a whole.
Now, what’s most interesting is how Weerasethakul crosses content and aesthetic. The visually disturbing jumble of images illustrate a beautiful, peaceful Thailand, while the contemplative, sparse, and elongated scenes — not mere images — express a descent into darkness, fire, hell. Weerasethakul inventively shows us that how a film is shot makes all the difference. Taken individually, images from the turbulently framed portion of the film are far more beautiful than images from the ascetically framed portion, despite being rather more unsettling as a visual — cinematic — experience. Aurally, the sounds of camera clicks and bird whistles leave a haunting score for your memory. All in all, the film leaves a truly awe-full, albeit strange, impression, and I see myself appreciating it more and more as time passes.