Originality is a relative concept. Some films are called original if they deviate only a fraction from the beaten track, others if they start from a bizarre premise, such as ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004) or ‘Being John Malkovich’ (1999). However, what the Thai Apitchatpong Weerasethakul shows in his film ‘Tropical Malady’ is of a completely different caliber. This production is so original that it can hardly be captured in existing frameworks.
The plot of ‘Tropical Malady’ is simple enough. In the first part, a soldier falls in love with a young villager and we witness the game of attraction and repulsion. The second part is about the same soldier who hunts in the jungle for a shaman who turns into a tiger at night.
What exactly the second part has to do with the first is up to the viewer to decide. It all seems to revolve around the tearing power of love, about surrender, about the primal drives that make every human being a hunter and prey in the realm of love. Sometimes the second part also resembles a subconscious imagination of the events in the first part. Director Weerasethakul himself is of the opinion that every viewer should give his own interpretation and in that light every interpretation is as correct as it is irrelevant.
Even more unusual than the structure is the way in which Weerasethakul has designed the film. Images and sounds sometimes seem to be a little and sometimes a long way outside of everyday reality. From a staring tiger and a group portrait with a corpse, to a talking monkey; a new reality, which sometimes resembles the world of the dream more than that of everyday life. It is a world with its own internal logic, a world that calls on associative ability rather than rational understanding. In short, an enchanting world that you should not see but experience. The question is whether that enchantment also lasts during a screening outside the cinema, but in the darkness of the cinema, with only the images and sounds of the jungle around you, it is a rare experience.
Originality is a relative concept and it is also extremely scarce. They must have thought that in Cannes, because there ‘Tropical Malady’ won the Prix de Jury in 2004. A deserved success for this fascinating film that creeps into the mind of the viewer like a tropical fever. And you will hear those jungle sounds for hours. Pure magic.