Oeuvre: Weerasethakul: Blissfully Yours

Oeuvre: Weerasethakul: Blissfully Yours

Its combination of sensuality and somnambulant semi-realism catapults him from a director to watch to one of the preeminent filmmakers of the 21st century.

Blissfully Yours begins in much the same docu-fiction format that characterized Mysterious Object at Noon. Min (Min Oo) is being examined by a doctor as his two female companions, girlfriend Roong (Kanokporn Tongaram) and older maternal figure Orn (Jenjira Jansuda), hover over him. Roong and Orn answer on Min’s behalf as the doctor asks him about a rash on his skin, and gradually it becomes evident that Min is an undocumented immigrant with limited fluency. While there, Orn attempts to get Min a work permit but is stymied by his lack of ID, though the doctor does offer her relaxation pills for her anxiety, and the two get distracted with talk of such medication’s impact on Orn’s sex life.

The method of this opening scene, using rigid camera setups but drifting in attention (at one point the camera stays in place as new patients enter and discuss their issues with the doctor), updates the exquisite corpse documentary of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s debut, but the increased formalism on display prefigures a film that begins to lay down the style for which Joe, as the director is known, would subsequently be known.

Joe’s knack for turning social realism into something oneiric and vaguely surreal starts to emerge shortly after this opening. Long-held shots force the viewer’s attention to wander around the frame, which turns compositions slightly off-kilter; when Min sits on a couch with a glowing aquarium mid-frame with lots of high-angled negative space around him, objects start to feel strange the more you look at them. Characters also engage in odd behavior, as when Orn, tasked with administering a prescription cream for Min’s rash, instead goes home and whips together chopped vegetables with various squirts of over-the-counter moisturizers. Her baffling cream salad is mesmerizing to watch as it is assembled, as if Orn were one of those people responsible for shooting food advertisements and using inedible touch-ups for effect. Wildest of all, the opening credits do not play until 45 minutes into the movie, by which time several long scenes of characters driving suddenly give way to a trip to the countryside with Min and Roong as the credits appear to blaring Thai synth-pop. The music completely shatters whatever sense of realism had not been gently sanded away to that point, abruptly turning the film into a road trip adventure.

The couple heads out to a large clearing leading into the forest, and they wade deep into the woods with a sense of purpose that belies the bewildering thickness of the forest. Min, stripped down to his boxers, leads the way as the two impossibly sink further and further into the jungle, her motions of rubbing lotion on his back and him leading her with confidence charging the film with a slight erotic pulse. This is Joe purely in his element, using lethargic shots of natural locations to generate a sense of primalism and otherworldliness, the couple regressing into Adam and Eve figures as they frolic and forage for wild food. It’s impossible to pinpoint the moment that this trek turns from a straightforward view of two lovers exploring to something elemental and ineffable, but Joe’s knack for hypnotic rhythms would soon serve him well.

Eventually, Min and Roong get romantic, kissing and holding hands and cuddling. Meanwhile, Orn suddenly appears in the jungle as well with one of her husband’s co-workers (Kanitpat Premkij) in hand. The two make love on a mat, exchanging no words and flitting between a sense of kindled passion and merely blowing off steam. The carefree attitude of the young lovers contrasts with the weary desperation of Orn, who is left to morosely dress alone when a thief steals the man’s motorcycle, and Joe frames her in a long shot where the slow buttoning of her blouse becomes an arduous expression of anxiety.

Roaming the woods as ambient sound of insects and birds builds to a roar, Orn ultimately stumbles across Min and Roong in a sex act of their own. Having earlier spoken to her husband about their drowned son, Orn is stiff from terror and trauma when Roong notices the woman and gently leads her into the water. Orn’s fear mixes with the gentle wading to create a mood of both tension and idyll, and atmosphere takes over the final stretch of the film as longing, grief and eroticism all weave together in the actions of the characters. Sleep, such a crucial element in the dreamy, liminal states in which Joe’s best work occurs, affects all, from Orn lying down in tears as she contemplates loss and loneliness to Roong nodding off as she fondles Min, the camera holding on her face as her eyes fall closed and eventually flutter open again. Blissfully Yours may be Joe’s second feature, but this closing segment offers the first true précis of his work to come. Its combination of sensuality and somnambulant semi-realism that would soon be wed to more ambitious attempts at exploring sexuality and history, catapulting him from a director to watch to one of the preeminent filmmakers of the 21st century to date.

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