Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work heavily influences the use of time and space, with extended shots and takes.
Possathorn Watcharapanit’s contemplative slow-burner “Rivulet of Universe” opens with verses by the Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote about himself not been restricted whether by the present or future. For a film that doesn’t stay in one time and space, but wanders from the past to the now and back again in form of dreams, poetic thoughts, tales and historic facts that overlap, this introduction measures up.
Traveling through time does not physically occur. It is the dissemination of knowledge surrounding Thailand’s mythology, history, and recent progress that facilitates this experience. While there are similarities in the use of extended shots and non-linear time in the works of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Watcharapanit, their approaches to storytelling differ significantly. Watcharapanit’s films often revolve around promoting his country as a tourist destination, incorporating details about its geography, conflicts, and divine beings.
From the beautiful opening, we are taken on a journey aboard a train with Jit (played by Arnan Jongpae), a sleeping migrant from Cambodia, as he travels to Phimai, a temple town in Thailand with a long history. The town is home to a team of archaeologists who are working on uncovering 4000-year-old bodies. Jit possesses a sixth sense that allows him to see things others cannot, but it is both a blessing and a curse for him, and serves as a spiritual guide for the audience throughout the film.
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When Jit arrives in Phimai, his first destination is an ancient temple from the Khmer era, or what is left of it. In a documentary-like style that continues throughout the film, Watcharapanit takes us on a tour of the temple’s desolate walls and then leads us to the National Museum. Inside, the research team is gathered and engaged in lively discussions about their significant findings, all while enjoying a home-cooked meal. The conversation soon shifts from archaeology to the delicious river snail soup made by one of the team members, sparking a discussion about the unique seasonings and main ingredients used in various Thai cuisines.
Transitions are utilized to shift between different parts of the narrative, introducing fresh personalities and locations. They are skillfully executed and provide a visual pause from the continuous stream of mentally taxing details. One such transition brings Ping and Tat into the scene, a young couple who befriend Jit and involve him in all their activities. The origins and reasons for this bond are not explicitly explained, it simply exists as it is.
A change in the flow of events occurs during the movie when three characters visit Khong Jiam, a town situated on the Mekong river where Pim’s parents resided. These individuals were representatives of a different era and ideologies, having been former communists during the Cold War. Once more, the audience is transported to a museum, examining a different type of “archeology” through an exhibit focused on the communist history. Jit is able to hear the voices and once again link the past to the present.
“Rivulet of Universe” is an ambitious debut feature for Passathorn Watcharapanit who is also behind the script. The film continues where his short “Real Rhythm of Rivulet” (2023) stopped, and expands on the exploration of time and timelessness. One of its most interesting aspects is the role of sound design. Wild and loud, it forces itself between people in conversations and makes the reality sound like a dream.