The features of Apichatpong Weerasethakul represent only a small fraction of his filmography. Through his production company Kick the Machine, Apichatpong has made dozens of short films, most of them commissions from museums and art galleries. This work helps the director finance his more ambitious projects; it also permits him to experiment with different media (digital video, multi-screen installations) and to create testbeds or companion pieces for prospective features.

But instead of anticipating a longer movie to come, the medium-length MEKONG HOTEL looks back at one that was never made. Produced for French television, the film takes ECSTASY GARDEN, an unrealized project from the early 2000s, and shifts it to a resort near the Thai–Laotian border. When not enacting scenes from this “lost” film, the cast (including Apichatpong favorites Sakda Kaewbuadee and Jenjira Pongpas Widner) make small talk with the filmmaker and each other.

These casual conversations sit strangely alongside the genre stylings of ECSTASY GARDEN—a mother-daughter ghost story with cannibal elements—as does the soothing guitar score (by one of Apichatpong’s high-school classmates) and the tranquil riverside setting. But as we saw in BLISSFULLY YOURS, there’s no such thing as a complete getaway; for example, even this remote corner of the country is not beyond Thailand’s contentious royalist politics. Nor is the sense of unease limited to horror-movie interludes: when Jenjira speaks of impending floods in Bangkok, she’s referring to the disastrous 2011 monsoon season—but in hindsight, her apocalyptic tone portends the other, more man-made crises that would soon engulf the capital, ending in the country’s current military dictatorship. Receiving its U.S. release after a four-year delay, this deceptively minor film illuminates the methods and concerns behind “major” productions like CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR, and makes one long for more of Apichatpong’s tantalizingly unavailable short work.

–Josh Martin


TROPICAL MALADY screens 4/12 (Tuesday, 7:00PM) at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, as part of the Apichatpong Weerasthakul retrospective.