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Apichatpong Weerasethakul Selects

Frances Dee in Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

The Apichatpong Weerasethakul retrospective that opened in March at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive carries on through May 12, and now another, The World of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is opening today at Film at Lincoln Center in New York. This one, though, is two-fold. Along with the films the Thai artist and director has made since his debut feature, Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), premiered in Rotterdam, FLC is presenting the filmmaker’s selection of ten features that have impacted his own work.

Following this evening’s screening of Memoria (2021), Apichatpong will introduce Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943), which he calls “one of the most beautiful black-and-white films ever made.” Frances Dee stars as a young nurse hired to care for the wife of a plantation owner on a Caribbean island. Her patient, who wanders the grounds as if walking in her sleep, is named Jessica Holland, and so, too, is the Scottish botanist played by Tilda Swinton in Memoria.

Apichatpong will be on hand to present two more films that aren’t his own. Writing for the New York Post in 2012, Farran Smith Nehme called Shohei Imamura’s A Man Vanishes (1967), which tracks the search for a businessman who’s gone missing, “a part-fact, part-fiction narrative that challenges the very notion of whether true documentary can even exist.” Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Puppetmaster (1993), in which an elderly puppeteer tells his life story, is “one of a few films that I consider to be the peak of my film-watching experience,” says Apichatpong. “Nowadays, I rarely come across delicate cinema like this.” As Dan Schindel notes at the top of his conversation with Apichatpong at Hyperallergic, The Puppetmaster is “extraordinarily difficult to see and should not be missed.”

One of the most surprising selections has to be Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), which Apichatpong says “reminds me of several Thai exploitation films that followed in its footsteps, but with less bravery and lunacy. This film is a mothership.” In John Cassavetes’s Opening Night (1977), the “aging, raging Myrtle [Gena Rowlands] is a directorial alter ego,” wrote Dennis Lim in 2013. “Which is to say, Opening Night dramatizes what Cassavetes’s other films embody—the radical, rupturing search for a truthful means of expression.”

Guy Maddin is “thrilled and honored” that his 1992 feature Careful will screen on Saturday. Apichatpong’s “carte blanche is packed with stupendous titles (thus the thrilled and honored part), including Chantal Akerman’s La captive,” the 2000 feature inspired by the fifth volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Writing for the Village Voice in 2001, Amy Taubin called La captive “a contemporary surrealist masterpiece and Akerman’s most fully realized feature since Jeanne Dielman. Somber in tone but punctuated with hilariously absurd details, it has, from beginning to end, the quality and logic of a dream—or of a fantasy spun by the protagonist as he lies in bed, writing in his notebook à la Proust.”

Childhood’s pains, strains, and moments of comic relief lie at the heart of Nagisa Oshima’s Boy (1969), the story of a ten-year-old whose parents have him scamming car drivers, and Abbas Kiarostami’s Homework (1989), in which Iranian schoolboys are asked about their day-to-day lives. “Coming of age, in Oshima’s view, means coming to grief,” wrote Budd Wilkins for Slant in 2014. For Lawrence Garcia, writing in the Notebook in 2019, Homework’s “remarkable tension arises from the contrast between the range of subjects covered in the interviews—the children’s accounts of physical and verbal abuse, oblique mentions of the ongoing war, and even a hasty poem recitation—and the questioner’s tone, which is unvarying in its equanimity, neither sympathetic nor antagonistic, merely detached.”

Frederick Wiseman’s Primate (1974), shot at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, comes up in Jason Miller’s conversation with Apichatpong at the Film Stage. Apichatpong suggests that all of his selections “act like mirrors because when you are in the theater you become part of the subject. When you watch Primate about these monkeys—you become monkeys, you become scientists—it’s really like a mirror for the fear and shame of being human. ‘Do we treat animals like that?’ All these things come up, and I think with the silence we allow ourselves to be open to that kind of empathy.”

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