Review: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s FEVER ROOM presented by Theatreworks
A change of perspective could widen your peripheries in this oneiric projection-performance from one of Thailand’s most acclaimed filmmakers.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul is one of Thailand’s most internationally acclaimed filmmakers, having been the first Southeast Asian artist to nab the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Festival. If anything though, Apichatpong is an artist first, filmmaker second, never shying away from innovations in the medium, and this is perfectly encapsulated in FEVER ROOM.
Presented as part of Theatreworks’ newly launched Curators Academy, it’s hard to put FEVER ROOM into words. Part film screening part epic light show, we arrived to catch the 10pm ‘screening’ at the Victoria Theatre, our minds already in a half-lethargic state, the threshold between consciousness and dreaming. But our first surprise comes when we’re led not to the usual seats, but a door that leads to a black box style room, pitch dark, and asked to sit on the floor.
FEVER ROOM eschews the traditional cinema experience altogether, its form demanding a space far beyond the confines of a film theatre. FEVER ROOM begins in typical Apichatpong fashion, immediately alerting us to its form as slow cinema. We watch scenes of the everyday in Thailand, as Jenjira Pongees (Jen) speaks cryptically in voiceover. These scenes then repeat themselves, and Banlop Lomnoi (ltt) provides his voiceover, similar, save for a few choice differences. We find out that they are sharing the same dream, and see each other’s worlds through this shared consciousness. Apichatpong adds a sense of the fantastic to the everyday, transforming the mundane into surreal, otherworldly places.
Soon enough though, this extension of the filmic medium expresses itself beyond its content, with an additional screen descending above the first one, and two more flanking the audience. The film becomes an environment, forcing audience members to physically turn their heads to see all that is going on. There’s a keen sense of claustrophobia as we watch a group of people on a boat, men on the shoreline seemingly chasing after them with no place to run. Itt explores a cave, and one feels as if one could reach out beyond the screen itself to travel there and touch this place, as if the screens were not a boundary, but a window.
But the true surprise comes about 60 minutes into the film, with the realization of where exactly we’re actually seated – the Victoria Theatre stage. Film gives way to a multisensory experience, as it dawns on us just why it requires a theatre as the safety curtain rises and unveils a ghostly realm, with ‘lightning’ that flashes and the sound of thunder and rain filling the theatre. It’s clear why this is a ‘projection performance’ – vortexes of light shine at the audience, and it’s an epic, out of body experience as we sit there mesmerized, in the very eye of the storm that is Jen and Itt’s dream. The light is so strong, so determined in its drive to becoming a living, breathing being that it gives us a palpable physical sensation as it washes over us in waves and beams. Even without subtitles, we were overcome with the emotion expressed in the chaos, the hope that these ‘refugees’ found in the safe, liminal space of the dreamworld.
FEVER ROOM delivers an experience unlike anything film or theatre has ever achieved; stretching the very limits of the medium itself, this is precisely the type of work that Theatreworks Curators Academy is pushing for, and it’s not hard to see why. Being a part of this epic, interdimensional trip wrings you out emotionally with its impeccable technical choreography and leaves you feeling like you’ve just been to space and back, our minds changed in the most fundamental of ways.