Mekong Hotel: Old Ghosts and Young Love in Thailand

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is an acquired taste. Either you go for his slow, dreamy, ghost-haunted Thai dramas or you don't. Yet even those who hailed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) may find this short, dull divertimento lacking. In a hotel looking over the swollen Mekong River to Laos, a young couple meets and flirts on the veranda. The girl's mother may be a 600-year-old cannibalistic "Pob ghost." The guy appears to be an old friend of Weerasethakul, who appears during interview scenes, which gives Mekong Hotel an almost documentary feel—like a notebook the director is using to sketch out different ideas. Scenes aren't really acted so much as rehearsed in quotation marks; and Weerasethakul refers in the press notes to having rehearsed a past project, never filmed, in the same location. The taint of the past infects the present: The Pob ghost may transmit her bloody appetite to others, and there are allusions to violence and ethnic conflict in this contested border region. Reincarnation is discussed more as a punishment than a reprieve from suffering. Meanwhile, the film is relentlessly scored with Spanish guitar by an old pal of the director's, whom he visits with far too much indulgence. Will the young couple get together? Weerasethakul isn't interested in such questions. Present concerns will be swept away by the impassive river. No matter what we mortals request, says the Pob ghost mom, "The water's not listening." (Weerasethakul's recent short film Sakda will also be screened.)

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