Halfway through Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s rich, strange Tropical Malady, after three people at the screening I attended had succumbed to frustration and walked out, the screen goes abruptly black just as soldier Keng is looking through old photographs of Tong, a friend who’s just disappeared.
Tong and Keng had been engaged in a fitful courtship that neither seemed quite willing to take completely seriously, in a first act of elliptical scenes and narrative diversions de-familiarizing the contemporary landscape (perhaps preparing for the rupture into myth?). The second part recasts the two men in a storyline that’s either a continuation, parallel, or drawn by subconscious spirograph: Tong is a shaman who takes the form of a tiger, and Keng his hunter, alone in a jungle lush with nocturnal sounds that may be the same jungle on the fringes of the movie’s first scenes. In almost impenetrable darkness, in a story humid with tenuous connections and portentous curlicues, Tropical Malady demands audience participation in its formation; for all Weerasethakul’s distinctiveness, he’s one author prepared to midwife at the birth of the reader.
Opens June 29 at IFC Center