20 of the Most Innovative Filmmakers Working TodayPhoto of Ana Lily Amirpour: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images Movies Lists Filmmakers
Innovation is a moving target—what was once groundbreaking is now standard, once novel now expected. This is far from insightful stuff, we know, especially when it comes to filmmaking: Look to luminaries like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and try to imagine when there was no such thing as a blockbuster, when Star Wars and Jaws shook Hollywood apart at its foundations. Look further back than that, to the French New Wave, to blissfully tasteless and nonsensical independent films made on micro-budgets away from studio lots, flaunting their artificiality and taunting all manner and means of filmmaking precedent. Look laterally elsewhere, to Stan Brakhage exploring what a film even was in the late ’50s, what it meant to have an “untutored eye,” filming his wife giving birth or conjuring erotic rhythms from the repeated images of him, his wife and their cat splashed with red, shadows pumping across silk curtains. What was once mind-blowing today feels kinda quaint.
And yet, we still find ways to surprise ourselves. Christopher Nolan modernizes mostly abandoned film technology; James Cameron creates his own technology, redefining the studio system to cater to his blown out indulgences; Werner Herzog balks at both. Filmmaking is now, like most artistic expression, wide open to pretty much anyone with an inclination towards the medium—which means too that our idea of whatever innovation is has to stay as flexible as the processes by which we imprint images onto our audiences brains.
Distribution methods, formalist experimentation, experimental forms, animation, special effects, practical effects, thematic complexity, complex narratives, ways of seeing the human body, ways the human body sees, depictions of gender and sexuality, documentaries that aren’t, dramas that are documentaries, or just a sense of playfulness and imagination like no others: Whatever paradigm it’s shifting, an innovation is uniquely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
With that all in mind, here are our picks for 20 of the most innovative filmmakers working today:
1. Ana Lily Amirpour
Watching Ana Lily Amirpour’s films, one can’t help but feel in danger. It’s there in the title of her feature debut: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, about a vampire picking off the people of a small desert town, shot in smoky black and white and aching with the kind of young lust bound to destroy those who wield it. Her follow-up, wreathed in post-apocalyptic cannibal couture, is The Bad Batch, allowing big names like Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves and Jason Momoa to indulge their worst weird-ass tendencies. It’s a grimy nugget of a flick, writhing in Amirpour’s many-genre’d whims, predictably greeting mixed critical reactions. Which should be expected for a filmmaker who takes such risks, who seems uncompromising in her vision, never once throwing the audience a lifeline or guaranteeing a lick of safety. Disaster, in an Amirpour film, is imminent.
2. Theo Anthony
Documentary director Theo Anthony draws parallels—between statistics and hunches, between logistics and subtext, between the systemic and the everyday, between the drama of history and the total lack of histrionics required to tell that history, any history—but never seems compelled to lay out more than the facts, trusting his audience to sense in the quotidian and all of its many coincidences the terrible institutions and forces of power behind the societies we’ve set up to conquer all that coincidence. His first full-length documentary, this year’s Rat Film, is a sign of the kind of simple power he possesses in his filmmaking, able to present all-consuming theses without disappearing down a rabbit—er, rat—hole.
3. Olivier Assayas
2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria, French writer and director Olivier Assayas’s lyrical catch-all for the many half-notions that accompany getting older—especially if you’re a celebrity—breathes with the bitter sweetness of life. Decay, loss of memory, insecurity, arrogance: Assayas boils these monolithic themes down to a sentiment, that no matter what we accomplish, we will always miss out on something equally worth accomplishing: some other part to play, some other life to live. In Personal Shopper a year or so later, Assayas brought Kristen Stewart back to twist, grieve and occasionally shout through an odd array of genres, from ghost story to thriller to quiet melodrama, rarely offering a distinction between any of them, rarely even offering to explain the many questions he raises. In resisting the urge to pin his films to one mode, one genre, or one reality, seamlessly meandering between boundaries, lingering in the interstitial, Assayas never demonstrates that he’s incapable of controlling his stories, but in fact implies the opposite: No rules will prevent him from telling exactly the story he must. (Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
4. The Daniels
Known for the “Turn Down for What” music video, and for the short film (“Interesting Ball”) in which one director is sucked up into the butt of the other director (among other anomalies, such as a group of frat brothers forming a murderous Voltron-like multi-human and a man cuckolded by a dodge ball), and now for the farting boner-corpse movie, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are filmmakers in complete mastery of the absurdity at the heart of everything they do. Swiss Army Man, their feature length debut about a man (Paul Dano) who, while stranded on a deserted island, discovers a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) with extraordinary physical abilities (involving farts and boners), is both a testament to their childish imaginations and a relentlessly creative exploration of mental illness, nostalgia and the ways in which movies define (usually to our detriment) our expectations for love and happiness. Almost nothing makes clear sense in the work of the Daniels, but rarely does nonsense feel so clear, the directors’ strange and vile and hilarious ideas pushed to natural ends, drawing logic like ethereal cobwebs from the minds of every viewer to assemble somehow a magnificent tessellation of pop culture and poop joke as emotionally wrenching as it is ridiculous.
5. Jonathan Glazer
While Sexy Beast and Birth proved Jonathan Glazer a formidable deconstructionist and deft with seemingly impossible tones, his Under the Skin in 2014 is an incredible achievement in sci-fi filmmaking, pulling at the threads of reality television, of anxiety towards the Other, of Scarlett Johansson’s gorgeous celebrity Other-ness, of even the panic, the potential for sickness and death, that pervades modern notions of sexual liberation. Adopting Michel Faber’s novel about an alien who works for an interstellar meat processing corporation, but stripping the story to its bones, Glazer worked with Johansson to essentially re-enact the novel IRL, putting her in a wig and mounting a few cameras inside her car so that she could pick up unsuspecting blokes without tipping them off that they were cinematic prey. It’s a simple but astounding feat, so perfectly attuned to the themes that seem to flow subconsciously from not only Johansson, but from those of us who look at her—her audience, in thrall to her beauty or her success or whatever ineffable notion that makes her bankable—and see someone not quite one of us. (Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images)
6. Kitty Green
Australian documentarian Kitty Green spent 14 months living with the women of FEMEN—the topless Ukrainian movement attempting to take down the corrupt patriarchy plunging the country into poverty—to make Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, her first film. Through the friendships she developed, archival footage, interviews and fly-on-the-wall voyeurism, Green portrays the movement as an inherent contradiction: Intimate in conception, but broad in execution, an idealistic shroud hiding much darker means. The film isn’t so much a belabored historical document as it is a litigation of truth—as, at their cores, most documentaries are—peeling away the FEMEN’s overarching layers of rhyme and reason to determine what drives these women, their honesty accessible only because of Green’s dogged involvement. That same dedication to context Green sublimated throughout her short film follow-up, The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, in which the director held fake auditions for young Ukrainian girls to play their gymnast idol in order to explore what a female role model means in such a country. She went even further with that short’s spiritual progeny, 2017’s Casting JonBenet (currently on Netflix). This time bringing her fake auditions to Boulder, Colorado (JonBenet Ramsay’s hometown) to find a cast for a movie (that will never exist) about the JonBenet case, Green inevitably transforms her time with these would-be actors by collecting their impressions of the case and what really happened. Inevitably, these residents bring their own stories into their explanations, revealing whole worlds of pain and curiosity able to orbit JonBenet’s story, elucidating much about themselves by peering into the darkness of the Ramseys’ tragedy. It’s graceful filmmaking, always aware of the inherent lies in trying to make an honest film, and there’s no doubt that Green will continue to bend the documentary form, breaking through to deeper and deeper truths. (Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images for AFI)
7. Alain Guiraudie
For almost 30 years, French director Alain Guiraudie—who’s called post-structuralist George Bataille a big influence—has chipped away at gender and sexual binaries, at the elitist hierarchies of taste and decorum, to delve into what forces conspire to make us human. He can also photograph the fuck out of some pastoral scenery. His latest film, Staying Vertical mounts a mélange of arresting images: full-screen close-ups of female genitalia filmed with almost clinical curiosity, shown in various stages of hairiness to denote the passage of time; full-screen close-ups of a live birth; full-screen close-ups of a man’s genitalia stroked; full-screen close-ups of a pair of male genitalia, mutually fondled—each image a shocking and then fascinating vista of flesh, furrowed symmetrically against Guiraudie’s gorgeous exterior shots. When the film’s main character (Damien Bonnard) presents a comically monolithic boner to literally hump an old man (Christian Bouillette) to death, Guiraudie frames this assisted suicide “climax” in the same way he frames all anatomical showcases or carnal acts in all of his films: gently and concisely, as if gender fluidity is a given and omnivorous sexual hunger a human gift. Not that the graphic nature of his work is anything worth celebrating for its own sake, but Guiraudie is one of few contemporary filmmakers whose sagging, flappy sensuality is absolutely fundamental, hilarious and hypertrophic all at once. (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
8. Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Though she’s only made two feature-length films in as many decades—editing, too, husband Gaspar Noe’s I Stand Alone and co-writing Enter the Void—these worlds Lucile Hadzihalilovic has created with the anxiety of inhabiting such weak corporeal frames burdened by such befuddling rules, hierarchies and parts. In Innocence she haunts the halls of a girls’ boarding school, revealing but never quite explaining what it is the girls are supposed to be doing there, or whether they have any choice in the matter. In Evolution, she lopes through the Mediterranean streets and sallow surgical rooms of an otherworldly island where not-quite-human, eyebrowless “mothers” feed their prepubescent “sons” an inky liquid, preparing them for some sort of sideshow pregnancy and eventual harvest. These realities, slightly out of tune with our own, still feel familiar, like vestiges of mostly forgotten histories. Hadzihalilovic’s brilliance as a director lies within that familiarity, wherein she taps the fears of the subconscious without offering cause and effect: These are our stupid, weird bodies; who really knows how they work? (Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
9. Don Hertzfeldt
In World of Tomorrow (now, with this year’s release of part two, the first in what one can only hope is a magnificently expanding universe)—in 16 minutes—Oscar-nominated animator Don Hertzfeldt lays out humanity’s destiny: a vastly interconnected age of barely functional connections. In stick figures, impressionistic smatterings of vibrant color, geometric arrays, a snippet of a Strauss opera and the perspective of one little girl, Emily (Winona Mae), World of Tomorrow makes all science fiction to come before feel limited, not far-reaching enough—not enough. In any of the subjects that keep us up at night, that define us through our calamities—mental degradation, the loss of memory, nostalgia, cloning, AI, robotics, time travel, immortality, death, the incomparable loneliness of the universe—in Hertzfeldt’s deceptively simple animation, all is boiled down to an essence, a “yes” or “no” question: Why does simply being human push us farther and farther away from each other? Further and further away from ourselves? Where 2012 feature-length film It’s Such a Beautiful Day (written, animated and directed by Hertzfeldt) depicts the unknown but scary-real mental illness of another stick figure named Bob, World of Tomorrow projects that illness outward, into the future, and then constricts again, irrevocably attaching you to this little girl, Emily. And again, an expansion: You can’t bear the thought of leaving her, this little stick person cartoon, to face the universe alone. Hertzfeldt spreads out, then pulls back, out and then back, again and again, his every animated cell an unmistakable sign of life: a heartbeat. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
10. Sergei Loznitsa
A Ukranian director who’s spent a good share of his career at Cannes re-imagining what kinds of films will be his calling card, Sergei Loznitsa makes ponderous art pieces that quietly comprehend what fellow documentary director Ai Weiwei might describe as the “human flow.” Austerlitz, Loznitsa’s most recent documentary, lines up long, motionless shots in black and white of tourists crowding into the grounds of former Nazi concentration camps. It’s arresting despite what it actually contains: low-contrast, dadcore panoramas of Millennials taking smoke breaks or flirting with their tour guides while behind them nuclear triads of Middle American white families listen to anecdotes about assassinating Hitler and wear Jurassic Park promo gear, all of this in the bleached white sun on the grounds of a compound that not too long ago housed incomprehensible horror. Loznitsa and DP Jesse Mazuch use unbroken takes of tour groups and families wandering around half-dehydrated, positioning the camera eye-level to drag the viewer through cycles of engagement—first curiosity, then boredom, then attention due to discovering a vast array of cultural signifiers and unintentionally offensive t-shirts and inane conversations, then curiosity and boredom again—finding countless ways to lull us into accepting what shouldn’t have ever been accepted. The same went for 2014’s Maidan, which took a similar tact in detailing the Ukrainian civilian uprising that brought down Victor Yanukovich’s presidency. These unflinching documents of the everyday Loznitsa juxtaposes with his more dramatic fictional work, such as last year’s A Gentle Creature, the story of one woman facing off against Russia’s incomprehensible prison system. Plenty of filmmakers navigate the banality of evil, searching for shades of grey, but only Loznitsa seems to want to capture the world’s boring badness in all of its boundless scope. (Photo: Antony Jones/Getty Images)
11. David Lynch
To deduce the influence of David Lynch is tantamount to picking apart the meaning of a dream: You will almost always be wrong, and even attempting to do so spoils the power of what you’ve witnessed. Everyone knows that Lynch refuses to explain his films—he often comes out and says as much, a man who talks plainly, with a limited vocabulary accompanied by hyper-detailed facts (much like a dream)—but that rarely stops us, even at the expense of the primordial feelings we’re mining, diluting them by bringing them from our subconscious to light. We keep trying, recognizing in Eraserhead the existential anxiety of being a parent, the ways in which responsibility by its very nature encourages us to resent what we’re responsible for. We intuit in Wild at Heart the toxicity of passion, sense in Blue Velvet the cretins of domesticity we’ve allowed to crawl under our noses unchallenged, watch in Twin Peaks as Lynch devastates genre, polluting prime time TV with the unspeakable—though, in turn, we still struggle to find words. We did so again this year with Twin Peaks: The Return, which is more than a new season of the show, it’s an 18-episode litigation of what “returning” even means, whether it’s remotely possible, or simply a futile gesture towards a feeling long gone. No director can capture the horror of that loss like David Lynch—and there’s no better filmmaker to push us screaming into a future we are not prepared to comprehend. (Photo: Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images)
12. Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s 2008 Hunger exists in minutiae and mundanity and excruciating detail—in long takes and philosophical discussions with no end and lots of pain, both physical and existential. The director’s feature-length debut understands that the human body is the last battlefield over belief, that nationalism, politics, religion and civil rights will always, eventually come down to the flesh—to whether or not we have full control over ourselves. With Shame and then with the much-revered 12 Years a Slave, McQueen would go on to further explore the ways in which physicality can be expressed on film as thematically as it is immersively (especially in Shame, maybe McQueen’s most direct examination of belief and the limits of the flesh), but in Hunger he began to give meat and texture to the theme that still defines his work: A body devoted to something greater is still a body. No matter what we accomplish, we’re still trapped in these corporeal vessels, seeking transcendence but knowing that the more time passes, the more acutely our bodies betray us. Watching McQueen’s films, one can’t help but feel that weakness, all the way down to the guts. (Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images For The BFI)
13. Roberto Minervini
Roberto Minervini’s hybridized films skirt the fringes of both documentary and drama as oneirically as they float on the sidelines of civilization. An Italian filmmaker who concentrates almost wholly on the American South, Minervini is a preternatural outsider, observing the goings on of a nonprofessional cast, often populated by those who would otherwise never find the chance to have their stories, however ordinary, told. Minervini is an outsider revealing the lives of outsiders, bound to his subjects by their shared liminality more than most Americans would ever be. So it makes sense that he never feels obliged to stick to straight documentary, but never has much of a desire to fictionalize the events of those he follows either—he treads instead in impressionistic truth, nudging his subjects into a cinematic frame without contrivance. In his latest film, The Other Side (alternate title: Louisiana), Minervini explores the margins of the deep South—meth addicts, militia members and racism abound, as do Hillary Clinton supporters—at the end of the Obama presidency, finding, without judgment, horror and violence paired irrevocably with tenderness and peace, telling us as Americans more in his films than we’re most likely capable of seeing on our own. (Photo: Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)
14. Kelly Reichardt
Resolution rarely exists in the films of Kelly Reichardt. Life flourishes before they begin, and life continues after they end, cast into the blank and thankless void of what’s to come. In lieu of resolution, Reichardt provides open-ended questions. Will the band of settlers make it to the end of the Oregon Trail in Meek’s Cutoff? Was Meek (Bruce Greenwood) right about the shortcut, or was he full of shit? Will Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) ever escape the ghosts of his increasingly desperate crimes in Night Moves, or will he find ruin in that desperation? Will the friends at the heart of Old Joy be ever to truly connect again, or has time permanently severed their ties? And with these questions, Reichardt lets stark, overwhelming feelings linger—resignation, paranoia, nostalgia, melancholy for what might have been—pushing her characters inexorably forward, at the mercy of forces so far beyond their control there’s no real trace of those forces in these lives, just the sense that this is how it is—that it is what it is. With that, Reichardt may be one of the U.S.’s most essential filmmakers, a director who refuses to give her characters or her audience a way out, besides via the hardest possible path: letting go. (Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
15. Albert Serra
Albert Serra’s latest, The Death of Louis XIV, doesn’t require so much of the viewer’s digestive fortitude as other body horror opuses, but it is still pretty gross. In this opulent historic bio-drama, Jean-Pierre Léaud—noted personification of boyish youth-become-man in Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films—plays an infamous French monarch dying miserably, slowly and painfully from gangrene. Serra peels back sheathes of squishy existential skin—of class, of patriarchy, of history, of scholarship and science, and then with casting Léaud, of fame and finally of the flesh—to reveal what’s ultimately beneath: nothing. In 2014’s Story of My Death, Serra—a Catalonian director just over 40, with nine features and plenty of shorts to his credit—imagines a meeting between Casanova (Vicenç Altaió) and Dracula (Eliseu Huertas), the former a representative of the indulgence of life, the latter thriving on death, but together agents of practically the same impulse. If any of Serra’s films are drawing a line, it’s a feeble one and it demarcates the pointless difference between existing and not.
In 2012, at dOCUMENTA (13), Serra premiered Three Little Pigs, a 200-hour-plus work Serra shot and edited throughout the long event:
The film is not conceived as a narrative, but rather a continuous flow of spoken words, interwoven with excerpts from a book of conversations with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, passages from transcriptions of private dialogs with Adolf Hitler, and comments made by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in a number of interviews.
No director approaches the historical drama, and the iconism of History, quite like Serra, who, with intimate and studied detail, chronicles the separation, whether possible or not, of the beef of life from the person trapped inside.
16. Agnieszka Smoczynska
First-time Polish director Smoczynska’s debut film is so ambitious—bursting with the cinematic lifeforce of a million microgenres and milieus—that watching The Lure sometimes feels like a Sisyphean effort of visual digestion, the viewer acclimating to one overstimulating flavor after another, just trying to keep up. To stay hungry. An ’80s-based musical as omnivorous as Sing Street (with way better songs) featuring a smorgasbord of body horror as upsetting as anything you could consider Cronenbergian, The Lure is a lot of things: dark and scummy feminist fantasy, a love story, a piece of punk catharsis. Smoczynska balances tropes without flinching, finding historicity in the bleakest fringes of the Warsaw underground by embracing the dark side of our Disneyfied fairy tales, not subverting the myth of “The Little Mermaid,” but stripping it of its romance, of all of its safety. The director next plans to craft a sci-fi opera based on the music of David Bowie, a notion that only makes sense in the hands of someone like her: someone who thinks about movie musicals like no other. (Photo: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival)
17. Steven Soderbergh
In 2005, Steven Soderbergh directed Bubble, his fifteenth film, a quick and dirty tale of a small town batch of blue-collar oddities without professional actors or any real script, then released the film in theaters and on digital cable on the same day, followed by DVD barely a few days later. In 2015, Soderbergh took it upon himself to recut Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey down to 110 minutes, excising its more episodic leanings to better consolidate Kubrick’s varying styles. This year, Soderbergh balked at his own self-imposed retirement to make Logan Lucky, shooting and editing the film as he went, further divorcing his process from his product, using digital technology—already an obstacle between filmmaking and prestige—to further break down the idea of filmmaking as some realm of the privileged. He’s following that film up, too, with Mosaic, a series for HBO which incorporates audience interaction to shape the course of its narrative. Though his career has always pursued experimentation, films like the non-linear Schizopolis and the two-part historical verite Che exploring the bounds of his cabability as a visual craftsman, at the end of his third decade in the industry he’s never been more engaged in attempting to dismantle it. (Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
18. Athina Rachel Tsangari
Production designer, festival founder, festival jury member, producer, actor, screenwriter and director—involved with Richard Linklater and Yorgos Lanthimos, part of the team behind the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics, among the many odd footnotes to her 25-year career in film—Athina Rachel Tsangari is one of Europe’s contemporary masters, an auteur who makes movies about her Greek homeland without actually making movies about her homeland. First film The Slow Business of Going Tsangari filmed over five years, assembling a series of vignettes populated by improvised situations and autobiographical material developed in consort with her actors, anchored by the story of a cyborg who crosses the globe “accumulating” experience for a corporation trading in “Nostalgia for Rent.” Ten years later, Tsangari released Attenberg, an unassuming sexual coming-of-age drama threaded through the crumbling architecture, both edificial and institutional, of modern Greece. Five years after that came Chevalier, which may be an unexpected examination of a nation in depressing economic straits, drawing lines between money and masculine validation, but it’s also directed by a woman, this especially hilarious bloodletting of the male ego. In it, nearing the end of a sort of luxury fishing vacation on the Aegean Sea, six friends—to varying degrees of allegiance to that word—attempt to quantify their worth as men by engaging in a game in which each person serves as contestant, judge and jury to determine who is “best at everything.” Tsangari refuses to limn their game with logic—to each his own, she insists, to the point that all subjectivity is erased in thrall to an absurd idea of whatever it means to be a man. Whether Tsangari is pointing to Greece’s woes and blaming men or is making a simpler point hardly matters—we need her voice now more than ever. (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
19. Agnès Varda
We could reasonably credit 89-year-old Agnès Varda with setting in motion the first tremors of the French New Wave, her 1954 debut, La Pointe Courte, employing non-professional actors and shooting in the small, titular fishing village to craft heady visual allegories for the dissolution of a couple’s relationship within that town. There is a moment halfway through Varda’s second film, 1961’s Cléo from 5 to 7, in which the same Cléo, a pop star awaiting potentially devastating medical test results, looks directly into the camera, weeping as she sings during an otherwise typical practice session. It’s a revelatory moment: Varda addresses her audience directly through her character addressing her audience directly, all while on the precipice of total dissolution. It speaks volumes to the degree to which such a simple gesture can so implicate the viewer in any film’s drama, no viewer free from what’s been witnessed. (Varda, too, structures the whole film in real time, so that we spend two hours of our life with Cléo while she waits for life-changing news, not allowing us the distance typically, at that time, afforded by more traditional films.) So too does Varda’s 2000 documentary, The Gleaners and I, hold the audience accountable, giving each viewer various unrelated scraps and images to be assembled and imbued with meaning only once they’ve escaped the screen. Varda’s place in the film is deliberate—in telling the story of French gleaners, rural and urban scavengers protected by a series of hilariously specific but often debated French laws, Varda frames herself as a gleaner too, a fellow traveller in a world of thrift-minded men and women who survive on what others throw away. This year, that collaborative spirit continues with Faces Places, part documentary, part metaphysical drama about her kinship with artist JR, the two traveling the globe, often revisiting the locales of Varda’s work, and therefore the work itself, positioning her oeuvre as a series of beautiful conspiracies, between her and the audience, between her and fellow artists, between her and her canon. Varda is at the center of it all, optimistic and intimate, encouraging the audience that we have a vital hand in her vitality. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
20. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Deep into Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest enchanting headscrew, Cemetery of Splendor, an assortment of fit-looking bodies get up, sit down, join one another, walk away, split apart, ride bikes and trade seats, all without reason but obviously with rhyme, as if, as a viewer, you’ve stumbled upon a reel of b-roll with the film’s main action cut out. Soon after, a sparkling shot of blue sky is calmly violated by a giant amoeba—or not, because maybe the amoeba is normal size, because the perspective isn’t clarified. And soon after that, a woman (Jenjira Pongpas) rises from an unperturbed nap, unsure if she’s found her way out of the labyrinth of her head, or if she’s only woken into another level of subconscious surreality. Such is the stuff of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s typical filmmaking fodder, laying one more layer of fantasy upon an oeuvre of dream-like films forever fragrant with illusion. A formative filmmaker of the modern arm of the “slow cinema” movement, Weerasethakul helped make the bed for such luminaries as Lav Diaz and Carlos Reygadas, but with so many nice dreams left in him, he seems to still be waiting with clairvoyant patience to see if his characters, and by extension his viewers, will ever wake up—or if they even want to. (Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.