A.W.: A Portrait of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (USA, 2018) and the feeling of images
Contrary to ‘formal’ biographical documentary films, Connor Jessup’s portrait of Thai filmmaker/multimedia artist Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul is a delicately woven home movie-like assemblage or collage, mixing Jessup’s footage with footage shot by A.W. himself during the course of a week that the two men spent together in Colombia (where the latter is making his film Memoria) and A.W.’s films and photographs. Additionally, editor Ajla Odobašić must also be mentioned as another collaborator here due to the film’s intricate plaiting of voice-sound-image and the differently, or collectively, authored footages. The result is a filmic dreamscape (or dreamy filmscape), stitched together not by chronology and numbers but by themes: of ghosts, memories, Thailand, and cinema, all of which very much recalls – and also pays tribute to – A.W.’s past lives and films.
Ghosts as memories and vice-versa
The film’s piecing together of varying footages is perhaps most beautifully and impressively rendered when Jessup and A.W. are walking through a cemetery on their way towards the thick of a forest, following a canoe ride. As the camera follows them from behind, nearly imperceptibly, the film cuts to a shot of someone’s feet walking with the support of crutches in a barely lit and littered space. The shot becomes bathed in darkness until someone turns on a light switch to reveal a woman (Jenjira Pongpas Widner) in an abandoned classroom space from Cemetery of Splendour (2015).
Encountering Thomas in a forest
For those intimately familiar with A.W.’s filmography, unsurprisingly, the most prominent space/setting in the film is the forest. One sequence consists of Jessup performing a scenario in the forest composed, photographed, and filmed by A.W. A substantial part of the film is also set in a cabin in the midst of a forest where A.W. and Jessup converse by the faint light of a laptop or natural light while surrounded by the distinct darkness that exists in a forest. Another sequence reveals a different perspective of the film’s opening scenes on the beach as A.W. and Jessup stare at the desktop and go over some of the former’s filmed clips. In what may be the film’s most conventional yet still unconventional moment of an interview at the cabin, near the end of the film is a sustained medium close-up of A.W.’s face/semi-profile lit by a single light source while the rest of the frame is surrounded by darkness. As he speaks of human connections through his films, memories, Thailand, and karma, rain begins to patter, and one feels a tad closer to the emotional and philosophical underpinnings that drive the flow of images, words, and situations in his films.
‘They call it “ghost plane”’
But what is most seductive about Jessup’s film is its play with the phantom qualities that prey on the basic meanings of ‘absence’ and ‘presence.’ This play is largely expressed through the disjointed relationship between image and word/voice that reigns in the film, which also contributes to its dream-like, stream-of-consciousness quality to capturing not only A.W. as a person and filmmaker but also his and Jessup’s friendship. For example, during the filming and montage of A.W.’s black-and-white photographs of Jessup in the forest or the sequence of the two men going over clips on a laptop, on the image track are audio interviews with close collaborators actress Jenjira Pongpas Widner and editor Lee Chatametikool that speak of friendship as a memory database and the feeling and formal structure of A.W.s’ images.
who can read minds
even before he was born
is an alien
If one could include one other theme that threads its way across the film, it is camaraderie and connection – and their relationship to storytelling, which then brings one back to memory since so much of A.W.’s cinematic storytelling hinges on it and its elusive processes. There is a touching ease as much in the conversations in the film as in the coming together of different sources of footage, especially since the standard sit-down interview format is eschewed. This ease leads to some comical exchanges at times, such as during the aforementioned canoe ride when A.W. tells Jessup to make sure to make it big as an actor in Japan or plainly states to Jessup following a question that ‘I don’t want to talk now, sorry’ in order to concentrate on filming reflection and the water. This same ease, so deceptively simple and belying the film’s thoughtful navigation through dense visual and aural layers, also helps to unfurl the emotional pull of the mix of the mundane and the mysterious in A.W.’s works, short and feature-length, in film and photography.
On a plane,
in a vehicle
traveling through the city,
Colombia of unsynced sound
Too much memory