I was a very lucky person with this film (here’s a big thank you to Immanuel!). I’m not familiar with Thai cinema, apart from Apichatpong’s films, which, I more and more believe, are not really belonging to the realm of Slow Cinema that I have began to put my focus on. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a wonderful and peaceful film, aptly called Eternity (2010). Aptly, because most of the long-takes feel like an eternity. Not in a bad way, though.
The combination of long-takes, untouched nature and means of traveling reminded me of Lisandro Alonso. When I saw Los Muertos for the first time, I had difficulties to stay awake. This wasn’t the case because the film was boring. It was just so soothing… It was similar with Apichatpong’s Mekong Hotel. While the aesthetics differed greatly from Alonso’s film, the ongoing guitar music made the film feel like a lullaby. In a way, Eternity is similar. It’s one of the most peaceful films I have seen in a while. It is one of those lovely slow films that allow you to sit back, rest, and let everything unravel in front of your eyes. No effort necessary, a bit like in meditation.
I don’t want to go too much into the actual content of the film. I have learned with Apichatpong’s films that attempting to explain to someone what the film is about is often a failure. They’re so deeply rooted in local traditions, myths, and beliefs that it is a difficult task for a Westerner to describe his films adequately. All I can say is that the film is loosely divided into three parts. The film opens with empty extreme long shots. First, there is the shot of a dusty road, and – as is so often seen in what I call “Slow Landscape Films” – a character appears in the background. He’s Wit, the main character, and he’s traveling on a motorcycle. Then we cut to extreme long shots of the landscape in which he only plays a minor role. He’s tiny compared to the overwhelming vastness of his surroundings; a distinct feature of the films I’m studying.
Wit arrives at a house, which turns out to be his childhood home. Whether he is human or a ghost is not exactly clear, though the latter would make sense giving the cyclic direction of the narrative. He enters the house, and what struck me instantly, was the large amount of photographs on the wall. Black-and-white photographs of people, most likely family members. This then lead me to think of Sontag and Barthes, and the themes of memory in Thai film.
Apichatpong’s films are by default about past, about memory. There is always something haunting in them. I feel the same about Eternity. The photographs are an explicit reference to this. What is one of the many uses of photography? We want to keep the past alive. We want to capture people or events in their time, so that we can go back to them, and help us remember how things or people had been at the time. I also think that the second part of the film, in which we see Wit as a young man, an insurance seller, and his relationship to a young woman, is not really set in the present.
It is a romance we’re witnessing. Yet, when are we actually witnessing it, or rather when exactly does what we see happen? Film techniques help to orientate the viewer through past, present, future. This is what flashbacks, flash forwards, or changes of colour are for. Eternity doesn’t make use of this at all, which isn’t surprising. I didn’t expect Kongsakul to use those techniques. So even though it looks as if what we’re witnessing is happening right now, in the present, I would be inclined to say that it is a memory. They’re events that have already happened. This is what makes these (Thai) films difficult because there is little temporal orientation for the viewer. But at the same time, it makes them incredibly mysterious and interesting. It is an entirely different experience. Uncertain at times, but a wonderful journey nevertheless.