Literal metamorphosis or formalist trickery? Whatever your take, the narrative bifurcations of Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady are Apichatpong’s calling card. One could point to Andy Warhol or David Lynch as renegade influences or jokingly cite the increasing need for an intermission in American cinemas when confronting Apichatpong’s yin-pause-yang approach, but an attuned participant might recognize how the Thai auteur conjures the moribund spirit of art-rock vinyl LPs.
The idea of two tonally discrete, side-length variations on a theme is at least as old as Led Zeppelin III. However, no artist has milked the half-and-half like ambient pioneer Brian Eno; in 1977, he produced David Bowie’s landmark Berlin albums ( Low and Heroes), both featuring a jangly, rhythmic side A and a drony, instrumental side B. Eno reworked his formula with Talking Heads three years later for Remain in Light, which is either the world’s greatest party album or a dirgey, prog-rock soundscape, depending on how you flip it. Like those records, Tropical Malady‘s A side offers the hits, a collection of achingly transcendent moments of romance in near-bloom. One swoon-worthy montage will invade your head like the chorus of Bowie’s “Heroes.” Halfway through the film, the image fades, giving way to a silent, 10-second interregnum before the opening credits to the challenging, ambient side B. Ten seconds—approximately the amount of time it takes to lift the stylus, flip the record, and lower the stylus again. Apichatpong’s films are both about and for the kind of lovers who still share Clash tapes.