Sonntag, 21.10.2007

BOARDING – Ein Gespräch mit Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Nicolas Wackerbarth: As president of the jury, you had to watch all films of the FID, the Festival International du Documentaire. Did you find any time to see anything of Marseille? It’s a great city.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I had a chance to walk around a bit this morning, but I prefer to travel around in Asia. It’s more interesting. Europe is very boring. The architecture is very similar. When you look at the details of course not, but in general, you know, it is too democratic, I think. You see more suffering in Asia, more interesting people you can talk to.

Sure, but don’t you have more cultural life here?

It depends, what you call culture.

Well, you go to a cafe, you discuss a film with friends, you go to a museum or a concert.

That doesn’t exist there. But you have more time to think about yourself It’s a different idea of living.

So maybe we could do an interview now, what do you think?

Now? It’s not much time till we reach the airport.

I’ll just tape our conversation. Is it okay with you?


I haven’t prepared anyhting right now, but I have seen all your films. I ´ve read in the festival journal of FID that you have also written a novel, is that correct?

I want to, but I haven’t. I just wrote articles.

So, maybe we could also print an essay of yours, if you want.

Ok, do you pay?


Ok. (laughs)

That’s a principle of our magazine.

To write a novel it will take a long time, because my main focus is movies and installations. But I know it won’t last, because the money is hard to find. One dream is writing a book. You know, that could be… after I’ve failed with finding money or whatever.

In our last issue, Ulrich Köhler, a German filmmaker who is also a great admirer of your work, said he would really prefer to be a writer if he would have the skills for it or enough talent.

It is a different media. I have to learn a totally new craft. It’s not like writing a script.

How do you write a script?

I just write as I see it in my head and from the dialogue that I gather.
And it’s very different from a novel in terms of structure. That’s why my movies cannot be written, afterwards, you know. They just can’t be written.

I was curious when I heard you are interested in writing a novel, because your film are so cinematic. You really have to see them to understand them.

The script is just a map, it’s not the finished film. Hitchcock said: When you finished the script, the film is finished. But for me it’s the opposite. The script is just a playground to have something happening there. It’s so flexible.

Still your films seem very conceptual. Similar to Hitchcock.

But Hitchcock is very narrative.

Still I think not every director has a clear idea… of style. Of course Hitchcock worked with genre, crime stories, but as a director he knew exactly what he wants to tell beyond that. He has a concept and stays with it.

Hichcock is a master of tricks. I like his films, but he is a master of his own time. We have to find a way for the new kind of cinema. You know, Hitchcock is dead. (laughs) I admire him, but it is not my generation. When you look at a Minnelli film, it is also a super film. Those films are super, narrative-wise, structure-wise and also regarding the conceptual things… But we obviously have moved to another level of conceptual films than regular Hollywood. And Hollywood is becoming worse, like a decay of narrative.

So you have the feeling that narration is in a crisis?

Yes. But for me I try to overlook that and I just try to work on my own way. It’s not like a quest for a new form, it’s just a quest not to attach to all those narratives. I am trying to challenge my own feelings to a film, that’s more honest. If you try to break a taboo or to find a new structure, I think, the work will become pretty hard and cold.

I was asking myself why your films work. They are so free, but they are still held together. The answer could be: Because everything I see is very personal.

Well, it works for me, it works for you, maybe it works for someone else too, but in different ways. I have my own code in a film. You can look at the film and you have your own code, too. And Thai people have their own interpretation as well. That’s something that can’t be translated in subtitles. It doesn’t mean that it makes it less approachable for other foreigners.

There is such a softness, everything seems to be very gentle and the actors are… there is a certain open minded atmosphere around them.

Because that’s the film I want to see. I liked to see many Hollywood films, I still enjoy it, but I can’t make those films myself.

But also compared to other artistically ambitious films from Europe or like Bresson for example… You don’t have any judgement in your films, you don’t separate, you bring certain things together that are often regarded as inappeasable.

I think that the problem is that people try too much to become academic. The culture of film criticism is very corrupt. I think it corrupted cinema. Because if you analyse, it loses something…. I mean for the filmmaker who cares so much about criticism. For me everyone has their own conservative way. For me my conservativsm is just to do a film for myself and to make sure that I can express my own feelings to this film. That’s my rule. But for someone like Bresson… he trapped himself by having so many rules. I found it very conservative, you know… But that’s his own problem, for me it’s not. So everyone has their own rules and sometimes…

So again, what exactly is your orientation in your work?

My feelings, my feelings…

But filming is so stressfull, there is the camera, the lights have to be set… you have to organise everything…

Definitely, but I try. You see, normally we have fourty shooting days and if I will go over fourty, I will be in trouble because of the budget, for example. I have to be really alert on the set. I´ll have to be aware that everthing what is happening is really mine… but there are certain days when I have to cancel the shooting, because I can’t connect. It happens rarely, but it happens.

I think we have to get out of the car right now… Which gate is yours?

Let me see…14… I’ll check in, look there is no one! Lufthansa is very fast.
If I go to a festival I always want to choose my airline.

I fly with Air France, they are very bureaucratic.

Yes, you are right, very slow. Wait, I want to look for a present for my boyfriend.

They have this Marseille soap. It’s nice,

I’ve heard about it. This olive soap. Great.

But that’s a lot, isn’t it?

No, no, it’s also for all my staff, my company. Maybe we could sit here till my boarding begins.

Of course, so… How is a day of shooting at your set?

It’s very intense. We don’t have a lot of days and I like to have many takes and everything is conflicting with one another… We don’t have much film material,
not much equipment, everything is not really comfortable. It’s like a normal movie, but it’s more intense, because we work in a small group.

Do you always work with the same director of photography?

No, but I wish. You know, sometimes our schedules just don’t allow it and he has to take another job. But in the last film, „Syndromes And A Century“, I worked with Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, my prefered director of photography.

I was curious how a film with your style will look when you are going to shoot inside a building. All your other films like „Blissfully Yours“, „Tropical Malady“ have been located mainly in nature.

I think it’s the same, it’s just a matter of… I just say what I want… know what I want to say and check with a photo.

But you have the different flucations of time in nature that complements a minimalism like for example in „Blissfull Yours“ more easily. I was curious how you will succeed.

It’s more instinctive. In this hospital I find my own corners that I like, and I went there many times before the shooting with my director of photography. We discuss a lot, also with my assistant… It’s not only about me… We have this intense moment together. It’s important for all to have that same understanding by going there before. But during the shooting I didn’t know whether I will succeed.

How many takes do you usually need?

As many as the films allow. I always shoot more than two, the maximum was thirty, which is very rarely.


Sometimes it’s a long take, and there are little things that are not right. It really depends so much on the feeling. Everything is feeling! That’s why it is really important to work with the same crew, because they no longer question why something has to be done again, because they know that it won’t work. Why? Because they know right away. My assistant looks at me and she sees that it is not gonna work.

You have these people in natural surroundings and we come close to a feeling of real time, but in „Syndromes“ we have a construction of parallels, time gaps, reflections, little stories.

„Tropical Maladay“ or „Blissfully Yours“ are both quite linear, they focus on real time, it’s true. But for „Syndromes“ we threw that away and wanted to do it more fragmented. We only focused on the situation or which rooms we like, for example the hall way. That’s why in the later part of „Syndromes“, in the ending, you only see these rooms and corridors. It becomes something nonlinear. And that’s when I introduce soundtrack, which I’ve never done before. Because it’s not reality, it’s not my usual reality. The time is not the usual time. When there is this jumbo of time, it becomes something like unconnected memories and feelings of loss in space. I would say the air is what you hear and that is shifted as well. So that’s what we tried to do with the soundtrack, to create a shifted ambience.

But the film is so pure and in the end you use such a tool, I wasn’t sure about it…. It seemed to me a bit manipulative, a bit threatening, like there is another power somewhere which dominates me.

That’s cinema. It is about manipulation. Even when you are in the jungle like in Tropical Malady certain birds which you may call normal sound from nature are just sound design. Only that the audience doesn’t know it. You know, everything is artificial.

But there you use just little tricks to fill up some parts of the film, in „Syndromes“ you made a clear decision: ‚Now I use soundtrack.‘

This soundtrack is just another step… not a step up or down, but a step I want to convey… That’s about the sensitivity, because I wanted the audience to feel this. If I usually hear soundtrack I don’t like it, because it traps the audiences, it forces the audiences to feel scared or to feel happy. So I used something else and I tried to find a very mutual sound. At least for me that frequency is linked to my feeling. (laughs) It’s not music, it’s a sound.

I thought you wanted to emphasize your criticism of this new big hospital where everyone is totally lost.

No, no. But it’s okay. If you feel that way, because I don’t do the film for you, I do the film for me. When I do something it is really important to think of my sensitivity.

So you never think about your audience?

Never! Never! (laughs) I only think about myself as an audience.
It sounds ignorant, but it’s true. And that’s why I told you that I want to write a book later, when nobody funds my films and they don’t care about my shit anymore… It will be okay. I always prepare. That’s how I operate.

Where do you take this kind of strength, what’s your orientation?

You mean experience?


I think that’s life. I am really interested in buddhism. Illusion is nothing… everything always changes. You know, when I won a price in Cannes, I called my mum and she said: ‚Well, rememeber this, it’s not gonna last.‘ So what do I work for? I visited Ray Bradbury. He is an American science fiction writer I really admire. He is an old man in a little room in LA, but before he was really famous… you see? So I say: Just leave the moment and do whatever you want. What the hell with other people i don’t care. (laughs)

Maybe we will see a science fiction movie of yours one day.

I am planning.

When I saw your new short film „Anthem“ here at FID Marseille, I thought that it was an utopia, but one which is happening right now, in the present.

That’s the title of my next film.

Oh, I didn’t know.

Mabye you have a good instinct while we are talking to each other. The next two films are twin films. One is called „Primitive“ and the other one is called „Utopia“.

I am not into Buddhism at all. I am from a European Country and, in a way, I see your films very naive. You connect things which I regard as being divided or working against each other. Old and new… religion and aerobic, pop music and ghosts…You really try to find something new.

I am trying to, but it’s difficult, because there are so many traps. You know the formula of science fiction films with all this memory stuff, like for example „Solaris“. Many deal with the human psyche. It’s always about how you define consciousness in the future… but this is a trap, it’s a cliché. For me I don’t want to make an invention, I don’t want to break rules. But in order to make a film, I have to feel strongly specific emotions about the future. That’s my wall which I have to break through.

So you talked about the traps, what you don’t want to do. But what do you want to do?

To see a film that I like. A film that has a sense of history, but that is not talking about history. It’s a sense of looking ahead, a sense of possibility. We are moving and moving towards the future. I don’t know how far at least. This is always linked with history and time. You know, in Buddhism they teach that time is divided into many layers and there is one layer that has a different concept of time. To simplify things, if you say one sentence in that world, it could mean a century in this time. That interests me. But that’s history. I want to talk about time in the sense that scientists do, like Einstein, who also was trying to crack that subject. (laughs) So I try to express that into moving images.

It’s very theoretical.


But do you believe in that personally? I can comprehend these layers in a way. While we are talking, different thoughts are parallel in my head: my boyfriend is waiting for me at Gate 21 B – I’ll have to do the check in in a few minutes – I have to find my passport. There are different times around us. But it is on a higher, total abstract level… can you really understand that emotionally? Do you believe in it personally?

I do, I do. But then again, will you call this science fiction? Is that documentary? Is that queer cinema? I don’t know.

These genres are not interesting, not any more.

I think, more and more people care less, more filmmaker give a shit about it.

Talking about time, I think we have to take a look at …

Oh, God, I’ve got my boarding in five minutes.

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