By Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Legends once preserved a culture's repressed memories. But in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Primitive, an installation now at the New Museum (through July 2), that duty falls to cinema. In eight videos, the Thai master interviews a man who can recall his past lives, observes time-killing teens and then builds a spaceship with them; he watches that spaceship slowly rise and sink (like a hot-air balloon that can't lift off), soldiers shoot peasants, and lightning strike the countryside. Taken together, these videos sketch an impressionist portrait of the Thai village Nabua, the same area in and about which Weerasethakul shot his Palme D'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives—where, according to wall text, the Thai military clashed with communist-sympathetic farmers in the 1960s and 70s, resulting in an occupation that sent the local males into hiding. In Uncle Boonmee, Weerasethakul represented this absent generation with laser-eyed monkey ghosts; in Primitive, he focuses not on them but on the children they left behind—the boys raised in a town without men.
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