While the principles of art and warfare might appear to share little common ground, one could argue that the most sophisticated examples of both do use at least one radically similar technique. The "indirect approach," (later called Fabian Tactics), first put to use by the great Theban General Epaminondas to defeat the indomitable Spartans, has unconsciously trickled down to abstract artists such as Jackson Pollack, William Faulkner, or Allen Ginsburg.
Refusing a literal or linear narrative, these artists choose to tell their stories in non-traditional, sometimes obtuse ways. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's film Blissfully Yours valiantly attempts an abstract and conceptual form of storytelling, using the trademarks of many artistic practitioners of the indirect approach.
The story of Weerasethakul's film is actually quite simple. It revolves around two Thai women, Roong and Orn, who try to help Min, a Burmese immigrant. Min, suffering from a rather disturbing skin condition, is deeply cared for by the two women, who attempt to find him employment, thus offering a secure future. The filmmaker wisely develops the story through a series or narrative vignettes, eliminating the potential for a boring lesson in "how to get working papers."
The simplicity of the story becomes more fully realized and more abstract as the characters transition to some sort of jungle paradise, where they picnic together. It is in this jungle setting that the director develops the subtleties of the characters, in very unsubtle ways. The jungle picnic is drenched in explicit, carnal sexuality, presumably designed to underscore the naiveté of Min, the aging desire of Orn, and the youthful exploration of Roong.
Ultimately, Weerasethakul's attempt to use this avant-garde, highly stylized approach falls short, as the film roams endlessly and uninterestingly through the experience of the three characters. The camera work is simple, bordering on the amateurish, often framing compositions in a static setup that simply lacks any aesthetic or elegance. Though the performances are strong, the actors cannot overcome the sparse dialogue, which adds little richness or depth to the film.
Perhaps better editing and more attention to the visual quality of the piece could have propelled the film to a place of greater impact. As it stands, it is a film that serious moviegoers will want to see, for its inventive approach to the broader and more diverse art of filmic storytelling.
Blissfully Yours screens Saturday, September 11, at the Dryden Theatre in the George Eastman House.
--- Christopher Nakis and Katie Papas