2002, 125 minutes
Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
A middle-aged woman and a young woman take a young man to the doctor to have his skin rash examined. The young man and woman then head to the jungle for a picnic and love-making, while the older woman also winds up making love in the same jungle. The two women reconvene to help float the young guy in a river to help ease his skin pain. That's essentially the plot of the Thai film but like a Hemingway story or a John Cage composition, there's meaning in what's not shown, not said, not heard, not there.
Writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has been a favorite of alternative critics and a handful of moviegoers since his weird debut feature, "Mysterious Object at Noon" (2000); "Blissfully Yours," his second film, since followed by "The Adventures of Iron Pussy," "Tropical Malady" and the just-released "Syndromes and a Century," marked a big step forward in narrative technique and visual beauty. Said technique, for which the less than felicitous adjective "Weerasethakulian" has been coined, consists of very long, static shots, few closeups, little soundtrack music, muttered, insubstantial dialogue, unactorly actors and, when the cuts do come, jarring transitions. Iran's Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf have a cousin in the east.
Much of the charm of "Blissfully Yours" is its view of modern-day Thailand, specifically a small city near Bangkok and a pristine jungle. The older woman, Orn (Jenjira Jansuda), tries to persuade a female doctor to write a note allowing the mute young man with the rash, Min (Min Oo), to get a job. We eventually gather that Min is not mute but is an illegal alien from next-door Myanmar; his Burmese accent would give him away. Min has befriended Orn and is the new love of Roong (Kanokporn Tongaram), a teenager who works in a factory painting Disney-style figurines. There's tension of some kind between the two women, which comes to something approaching a showdown a few hours later in the jungle. The movie can be divided between the early, "urban" scenes and the subsequent pastoral segments. (Indeed, the film's opening credits appear when Min and Roong start their drive to the forest - 43 minutes into the movie.)
Nothing is spelled out, but by the end we sense that Min is mainly interested in getting away from the women to start a new life in another country, while the women (who participate in explicit sex scenes, censored at home in Thailand) are left emotionally bereft. In a final goosebump-raising closeup, Roong turns her sad eyes to the camera, beseeching us to understand what she cannot say.
Strand Releasing has done a fine job here, presenting the beautiful, naturalistically lighted movie in a flawless transfer. The picture is in widescreen, with black bars on all sides. The soundtrack is in Thai only; yellow English subtitles are well written and easy to see.
The simple main menu features live-action montages from the movie. Extras amount to the original Thai trailer, substantial introductory remarks (in Thai) by director Weerasethakul, and a "commentary" track, which is really a discussion (in English) between the director and American film critic Chuck Stephens. Weerasethakul points out that his film originally was conceived as a sci-fi tale involving the Thai military doing mysterious things in the jungle; remnants of this made it into the film, in the form of strange blue canisters sticking out of the ground in the otherwise untouched jungle and in a surgical mask that Orn finds in the forest and puts on, as if warding off deadly gas.
Stephens and Weerasthakul's chat is enlightening (the director says he considers the young couple's entering the jungle as reentering the womb), but the DVD producers have failed to turn down the volume of the movie's soundtrack, so that the soft-spoken commentators' words are often hard to hear.
Serious cinemagoers have a treat in store in this beautiful looking, oddly mesmerizing slice of Thai life. The unhurried filmmaking style, quiet performances and superb aural background (the sounds of insects, wind, crunching leaves) draw us into a more exotic place and away from our own mind-set. Piecing together the meaning of it all is part of the fun. The movie, though, is not what most viewers will consider entertaining. Those folks will pass this title by anyway; for the discerning few, it's a treat.