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Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2001)


    The essential lack of major incident that makes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours so noteworthy also has a tendency to either drive away moviegoers not prepared to deal with its sloth-like pacing or pull them in with its intoxicating atmosphere. My first viewing of it last year was an exercise in frustration as I dug in my heels and resisted any of its sensual pleasures as I hoped that its thematic strands would cohere into some sort of profound statement. It seemed they never did, and I left the screening irritated by the seeming self-indulgence of the filmmaker. Still, time was kind to my opinion of it, and upon revisiting the film with a better idea of what to expect from it, I find it a reasonably diverting, if not entirely successful, venture. Going into Blissfully Yours with anticipation of plot or deep character development is asking for trouble, because there’s little of either to be found. Instead, the film sets up a single, almost simplistic theme (How difficult is it to forget it all and play hooky?), and examines it from the perspective of three self-absorbed characters. There are critiques of the elements of capitalism that they need to escape (one character fakes an illness to get out of work, only to enter a car where figurines similar to the ones that she’s paid to make decorate the dashboard) and the political environment that they seem largely unaware of (they picnic near the hotly contested boarder between Burma and Thailand and blunder obliviously through an old military installation), but mostly the film seems concerned with conveying the state of mind that is required to reach even a fleeting state of bliss.


    Blissfully Yours is divided into two halves by its opening credits sequence (which breaks the film’s hard-won mood with some out of place intertextuality and a brash pop-song). The first scenes show things that happen before the characters’ picnic rendezvous and the latter those that happen during it. The early scenes, in near real time, introduce the audience to the three leads as they shirk responsibilities and try to move away from their problems temporarily. Not only do these characters have to drive across the country, make driving arrangements, concoct excuses to get out of work, and get pressing issues (such as illegally getting a Visa) out of the way before they can relax for the afternoon, but also once they do get to their supposed paradise, their emotional troubles keep messing up their ability to escape from it all. Roong, a young Thai girl, is way too willing to sacrifice her desire to please her partner (she’s been in an abusive relationship and gives her partner oral sex without ever demanding the reciprocation she so clearly wants). Her boyfriend, the illegal Burmese immigrant Min, is using Roong and her money to expedite his immigration process (as the inelegant superimpositions of his doodles and notes and his voiceovers let the audience know) and has to contend with his painful skin condition while trying to enjoy himself sexually. Their friend and assistant in the immigration process Orn is annoyed that her partner doesn't listen to her when she asks him to stay home and inconvenienced by the motorcycle that she has to ride. Then, once she finally couples with her boyfriend, their brief afterglow is rudely interrupted. The message here seems to be that any happiness in a life filled with so many external and emotional pleasures is fleeting and is to be cherished.


    For a film that recognizes the allure and sheer pleasure of eroticism, the eroticism itself is not really being examined thoroughly here so much as how the characters get themselves into a mental state where they can forget their baggage enough to enjoy the sex. The sex itself is almost perfunctory, and I personally found it about as erotic as tooth decay even as I recognized the effect that it had on the characters. As such, the film’s aspirations of becoming a truly sensual experience come up a bit short for me. Blissfully Yours is a film about sensory pleasures that really doesn’t provide very many for this viewer (though there’s probably nothing more subjective, so each viewer’s experience will inevitably vary). I wish it were more gorgeous or more funny or more something, because as well executed as much of this gambit is, it's tough to embrace it in its current bloated and sometimes off-putting form, whatever honestly might exist in it. My first time through it, I really enjoyed the opening doctor's office visit, and then faced diminishing returns as the film droned on. On a second viewing, the framework seemed a little more consistent to me (perhaps because I knew the interminably long driving sequences would eventually end), but there are few things that feel as stunningly beautiful as they should in it. Also, because it’s apparent that Weerasethakul has plugged his characters into a loose narrative, it becomes more difficult to remain patient with the more meandering interludes that put off narrative development. Once a film tells the audience to expect a destination, work toward that destination becomes rewarding, even if the road is eventually revealed to be more important. If there were no narrative buildup at all, perhaps the movie’s many lulls would be more bearable.


    As well observed as Blissfully Yours is, while watching it I don't know that I'm truly getting a fresh perspective. There’s so little information given about the characters that I really didn't think I know them enough to judge them, and the movie's coda certainly asks the audience to do that. There’s ultimately not a positive appraisal of any of the three leads and that's a bit of a shame because the movie’s desire to turn the characters into larger thematic constructs that can serve as targets for political attack undermines my ability to enjoy their pleasure because it makes them feel less like “real” individuals. The sense that this is a moment out of time that's being taken at the expense of productivity of the rest of their lives already contains implicit political critique, since any situation in which happiness must be so diligently worked toward is inherently flawed, so any additional political content feels like overkill. Still, as much as I complain, it’s probably no small achievement that such subject matter is smuggled into the deceptively simple setup of Blissfully Yours though without upsetting the movie’s delicate homeostasis (though this seems achieved mostly by featuring politically ignorant characters). Because Weerasethakul delivers everything in the movie with the same sort of caution, the viewer’s reaction to the film seems extraordinarily subjective. I wouldn’t be surprised if my third viewing of it found me declaring it either a dismal failure or a truly great work. For now, I'll settle for ambivalence.


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Jeremy Heilman