Vampire is a dreamlike journey in search of Nok Phii, a strange mythical bird that feeds itself on the blood of other animals. Nok Phii lives, or has lived, between Thailand and Burma.
M Hotel is a portrait of a hotel. Two boys take pictures in a room. But the sound deeply disturbs the vision, opening terrifying narrative scenarios.
One of the striking aspects of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's career is its extraordinary productivity. Besides the feature films, installations and projects such as Primitive (2009-2013), Weerasethakul constantly works on different supports and measures, which arise from commissions but which also come out of casual events, and that are disseminated both in film festivals and online.
These works deal with memory and remembrance, are grounded on personal motivations and are often traversed by the echo of social and political instances. Despite resembling documentary films, they cannot be considered as such, as they intertwine fiction and documentary, in which the notion of reality is mutated and distorted, becoming surreality, and questioning the notion of identity.
Both Vampire and M Hotel seem anomalous works, but they are fully coherent in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's world: they are inhabited by his obsessions – the window as the threshold between inside and outside; the dialectics between light and darkness and its various shades; the latent presence of the animal; the fable; the coexistence of two parallel worlds, ready to overhang one another; the game as an existential condition… – and, while appearing to be deeply experimental, they are impregnated with cinema and its history.
Andrea Lissoni: I like the couple Vampire and M Hotel. On one hand they deal with two crucial visual obsessions of you, respectively artificial light and windows, on the other one, there is that permanent interest – I would not call it an obsession – for animals and men. What do you think about?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I like the settings where the lights and desire cross path. The desire to communicate with the invisibles in the darkness, or in memory, or in the future. It's always related to cinema and we as insects that are drawn to lights.
AL: It's actually a couple of thriller short films?
AW: Perhaps yes. I always love American B-horror movies since I was young.
AL: I was wondering how do you react to commissions? You take it as an occasion to develop something you always had in mind or it's more a question of improvisation?
AW: I can always find something in the commission's guidelines. But most of the time I chose the locations that always relate to my memories and i focus on that.
AL: About Vampire: Can you tell us a little bit about the making of Vampire? Watching it I felt something like a playful mood in the beginning, even if the subtitles are speaking about something very serious related to some political issues (the country and the burmese soldiers...)
AW: It's a game... of faking mystery, of filmmaking, of politics. I just finished reading a book on North Korea. These authoritarian regimes are playing the games of murder and deception. There is also the element of beliefs, which is also there in Vampire.
AL: Vampire looks splitted in two parts, the Jaai Loongsu narration and than the bird history about you and your crew. It is the case?
AW: They are related. The two are lost and searching for something, using Jaai as a bait.
AL: What are those red ribbons scattered in the trees?
AW: That's another bait – a bloody fabric.
AL: What's that permanent sound that seems of an animal?
AW: It's a bird's. We heard that all the time while we were there at night.
AL: When I saw it first, i felt some resonances with a so to say ‘blair witch project’ atmosphere. What do you think about?
AW: Yes, there is the element of game and ritual. We can almost say that The Blair Witch Project is about Burma.
AL: And now about M Hotel: It's a portrait of an hotel room or it's a portrait by an hotel room?
AW: That's an interesting take! It's just that I love small hotel rooms in big cities. So when asked to do a portrait of Hong Kong, I chose this hotel where I can look at both the park and the cityscape. It's literally like a fish tank.
AL: Two boys, a window (once again). And, after a while, I realised that it is a sort of Rear Window. Would you agree with it? Is there a hitchcockian atmosphere in it?
AW: I was thinking more of Coppola's The Conversation. It is about looking and searching for meaning, for communication. In fact, the sound design is inspired from that film. Gene Hackman is finding clues from listening to bits of sound waves over and over. While watching this film you need to turn the sound on quite loud.
AL: Can I know the relation between your last medium-length Mekong Hotel (2012) and that M Hotel?
AW: At the time I was (and I still am) into the issue of water and border. The Mekong, the thai-Laos border, the rehearsal of mundane activities. And I knew that I would make Mekong Hotel later. So M Hotel is its sketchy brother.