Credit: Strand Releasing
by Patrick Preziosi Featured Film Kicking the Canon

Blissfully Yours | Apichatpong Weerasethakul

July 14, 2021

Each one of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films is a series of echoes and recurrences, palimpsests of what has preceded and teasing forebears of what’s to follow. There are certain indicators to his career’s chronology — sly mention of current events, the obvious quality of the filmmaking tools — but the director has otherwise operated with a fully-formed timelessness since his debut docufiction masterpiece, Mysterious Object At Noon, his films branching off from one another in different configurations. Much like how Mysterious Object doesn’t feel like a first film, Blissfully Yours doesn’t play like a concerted “sophomore” effort, the ostensibly upscaled ambition a mostly non-development considering its predecessor’s scope, a game of exquisite corpse drawn across Thailand, strokes of ethnography mingling with off-the-cuff narrative.

The light surrealism that exquisite corpse encourages offers perhaps an apt, overall description of Apichatpong’s work, where the linking of events is more subconscious than it is expressive, an intuitive progression that accumulates symbols, tokens, and characters in place of climax, and which also accounts for the fierce incisiveness that’s inextricable from the director’s own political weariness. Never prioritizing hand-wringing academicism, however, Blissfully Yours opens with something of an extended scheme, feigned muteness as a means of circumventing governmental strictures that apply to immigrants. Two young adults, somewhere in the transitory space between adolescence and maturity, Min (Min Oo) and Roong (Kanokporn Tongaram), are accompanied by an older woman, Orn (Apichatpong regular Jenjira Jansuda) at a doctor’s office. Orn is vouching for Min, claiming the Burmese immigrant — who suffers from a seemingly incurable skin rash across his entire body — to be her cousin from the country, so he can receive a work permit. Roong is his presumed lover, and like the liminal haze of their aforementioned age group, the romance itself is mutual and excitable, though still prone to fits of respective shyness.

This push-pull dynamic of tentativeness and full-bodied intimacy informs the bulk of the film, which, following the doctor’s appointment, gradually works its way out of Khon Kaen and into the surrounding forest. The picnic requires some finagling (Roong has to give an acceptable excuse to dip out of the miniature figure painting plant she works at), and Orn’s preparation of homemade lotion for Min, which builds to one of Blissfully Yours’ —and Apichatpong’s — best jokes: sneakily feeding some of her remedy to a nearby coworker under the guise of it being edible, the man’s vision is suddenly and momentarily rendered soft and hazy, awash in gentle purples and pinks.

More primal activities, such as eating (no matter the concoction), touching, kissing, and having sex are ultimately what ground Blissfully Yours, sudden bursts of tactility that sometimes run even visceral, considering Min’s ailment. The risk of pure effervescence is dispelled by Apichatpong’s appetite for the erotic, no matter how awkward; Min and Roong’s first onscreen kiss is gawky, but also necessary for the increased sexual confidence both begin to later experience. Cut throughout the young couple’s sojourn is Orn’s own bout of picnic-and-sex hooky, although hers’ is predicated on considerable more familiarity: an openness to nudity and heavy breathing, the robustness of this particular union is like a future iteration of Roong and Min’s own fledgling affair. Apichatpong’s penchant for bifurcation and dreamlike parallels, if in its embryonic stages in Mysterious Object in Noon, is fully borne here, the gift of hindsight rewarding repeated watches of Blissfully Yours.

And like its sister films, Blissfully Yours finds itself encroached upon by the “real” world in more ways than one, the dreamlike reverie of bodies in contact and post-coital snacking spiked with reminders of the larger environment of which the characters inhabit. A stray gunshot, the peripheral presence of police and soldiers, dead children, and most potent, the unsafe indignities that immigrants have to suffer: a voiceover from Min lightly cracks the movie apart, where he admits that he has a son back home in Rangoon, and had hid in a septic tank from the police, the presumed source of his rash. Still, the picnic forges on, the sexy and hypnotic distractions of the day claiming a new poignancy as contextual details snowball. Although Blissfully Yours was initially envisioned as a project to be undertaken in real time, it still feels entirely, absolutely real, even if it cheats formally (one can ascertain these original aspirations in those now patented driving shots of Apichatpong’s, whose durational heft is not unlike those of Abbas Kiarostami). It’s not a film that rings of being particularly improvised, but its navigation of its variegated incidents dovetails so perfectly with what little information we’ve gleaned of the circumstances that it’s as if it were dispatched from that actual forest, on that actual day, from these actual people, living their actual lives.

Part of Kicking the Canon – The Film Canon.