Ostensibly another bifurcated, semi-opaque tone poem from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with a nervous courtship half-taking place in a serene country clinic in the 70s, then not taking place at all when the same characters and dialogue pop up in a contemporary, antiseptic one. One of Weerasethakul's (multiple, variously elliptical) ambitions here is to explore the impact of environment (shifting as ours is increasingly towards the sterile and non-personal) on human interaction and personal histories - and it's a worthy, intriguing one. He manages it most successfully in the contrast he establishes in the bond that sparks up between a dentist and a monk in the first variation (surely the warmest, most subtly sensual scene ever set in a dental ward) and doesn't in the second.
But in contrast to the lush, sultry visuals inTropical Malady, the tranquil-generic imagery in this case does nothing for the atmosphere. And while the earlier scenes are pleasant enough, the half that takes place in modern day is as stifling and soul-depleting as the medical set-up it depicts. This was very likely Weerasethakul's intention, but it's up to the viewer to infer whether the insight they gauge from it (which, in my case, wasn't an awful lot) justifies over a half-hour's worth of airless tedium.
(P.S. Though I should add, the projectionist may have compromised the film's impact on me. The stills I've seen online look exclusively lovely and nowhere near as bland as they did at the Regent on Wednesday night.)