More of a repurposing of footage from a production that never fully came together arranged into a lengthy short than a proper follow up to his critically lauded and delightfully alluring 2010 ghost story Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel offers some thematic and visual delights for patient viewers, but its limitations as a short with grand ambitions can be felt pretty clearly.
There’s not much in the way of plot, and almost less in the way of a discernible or correct meaning or interpretation of what happens in this almost peripheral and in some ways more bittersweet kind of ghost story and tale of passed on memories that haunt the living. It’s pretty scattershot, loosely assembled, and almost entirely oblique in many ways that good art should be. While it might be lesser than a lot of his previous work – and even most of his previous short films – it can’t be said that Weerasethakul’s work here is lacking in a single unique vision.
There’s a hotel. It’s vaguely haunted in some way. There’s a pair of oddly distant lovers who meet there (Sakda Kaewbuadee and Maiyatan Techaparn). Some shocking things happen, and tender conversations and contemplations unfurl. It’s almost impossible to spoil or talk about with anyone who hasn’t seen the film, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably in the audience who would be willing to talk about the ennui and symbolic nature of the film in the first place.
The post flood landscapes captured here add the most chilling subtext to everything going on around the characters, and the more ghostly elements of this yarn are far easier to buy into than any sort of overarching thread that can be discerned. Since it takes place along a river, there have been several critics who have already said that the film kind of floats along, but it really just feels kind of static and spinning its wheels. It’s a short film at just under an hour (and paired with another lengthy short during its theatrical engagement in Toronto from Attenberg director Athina Rachel Tsangari called The Capsule, which I haven’t seen but am excited for), and maybe another viewing would be of service. Unfortunately, unlike a lot of Weerasethakul’s previous works, this one might be a bit too dry to revisit anytime soon despite the waterlogged setting. It’s purposefully and effectively inscrutable, but there’s not a lot of reason to care about the mystery in such a short period of time.