A Thai film made in Africa, a strong statement about censorship, another film that was almost censored and yet another that tested the limits of Thailand's ratings system, works by world-famous filmmakers and a bevy of short films await audiences at the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam, which has released its full program online.
Among the world premieres is Unreal Forest, a new feature by art-film director Jakrawal Nilthamrong, who was among the Asian filmmakers commissioned by the IFFR's Forget Africa project to travel to Africa and make movies. Jakrawal went to Zambia, where he worked with three young Zambian directors, having them pitch short-film projects to him. "The whole process -- including the auditions and later production discussions and rehearsals -- was recorded on film", with the documentary and "Magic African" images juxtaposed.
Another world premiere will be Reincarnate by Thunska Pansittivorakul. Screening in the Spectrum program, it was among the selections tipped in a preview listing of the festival. The film is ostensibily described as a story about the relationship of a homosexual teacher and his student, but it's more of a statement about censorship from Thunska, who's still stung over having his previous feature, This Area Is Under Quarantine, banned from screening in Thailand.
In a message on Facebook, Thunska says:
Reincarnate starts with a text: 'Thailand has since August 2009 banned the screening of sexual acts and genitals in films and anything that damages the interests of the country or causes disharmony in the people'. Thunska Pansittivorakul's ... This Area Is Under Quarantine (2009), which was only screened at this festival last year, was the first victim. Images of a violent conflict between the government and Muslim demonstrators did not get past the censor. How can any filmmaker still show what is happening in his country? In view of the fact that anything can fall under this law, in Reincarnate he shows for the first time flowing sperm. In his previous films, homosexual love was always prominently, but not explicitly present. Alongside separate sketches of the relationship between pupil and teacher, the film is made up of several cryptic scenes that comment on the oppressive political situation, in which all parties only defend their own interests.
Provocative as always.
Making its European Premiere and competing in the VPRO Tiger Awards will be Mundane History (there's a trailer there), Anocha Suwichakornpong's debut feature which received support from the IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund. When the family drama about a paralyzed young man was screened in Thailand at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, it was given the 20+ rating, the first for a Thai film under the new ratings system, but was reportedly almost banned because of a bathtub scene featuring full-frontal male nudity.
The Bright Future program has Slice (Cheun), directed by Kongkiat Komesiri and based on a story by Wisit Sasanatieng. It's a gory and violent tale about a convict sprung from prison to search for a serial killer who he thinks was his friend in childhood. Rated 18+ in Thailand, it contained nudity, sexual acts and sexuality and extreme violence, including a murder spree in an orgy club.
Another film with strong images, though it was released before the ratings system was enacted, is Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Nymph (Nang Mai), which is part of the Spectrum program. It opens with a young woman being chased into the forest and raped by two men. Later, a cuckhold husband finds a new love in a forest spirit, and the nymph's naked female form is glimpsed among a bundle of knotty tree roots in the deep woods.
Another big name in the program is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose short film from the Primitive project in the rural village of Nabua, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, anchors a mini-program of shorts, Letters from Spirits. Chaisiri Jiwarangsan, who is part of Apichatpong's crew, has two works shot on the sidelines of the Primitive project in Nabua, My Mother and Her Portrait and Small Village and Its Remains A fourth film in this Letters lineup is Spirit by Malaysia's Chu-Li Shewring.
And there are several more Thai short films:
- Four Boys, White Whiskey and Grilled Mouse -- Directed by Wichanon Somumjarn and produced by Anocha's Electric Eel Films, this is a delightful short -- one of my favorites from last year's 13th Thai Short Film & Video Festival -- about young guys hanging around in the countryside trying hard to kill boredom.
- In Space -- "A small, delicate story about a young Thai monk and his grandparents in New York. They need each other. Grandparents and grandson remain deeply Thai in their New York environment. When the boy enters a monastery, it is only half-heartedly. He does not feel at home there and searches for purpose in his new life. Then, he sees his grandmother again." Screened at last year's World Film Festival of Bangkok, it's by Visra Vichit-Vadakan, a student filmmaker in New York who had a short Fall at IFFR in '09.
- Rise -- Also by Visra Vichit-Vadakan. "Listen with your eyes shut and you hear a story about parents and their child. Look with your ears shut and you see a street artist. Yet there is a link. A film on two tracks. The visual track shows a young performance artist. On a street in the middle of Bangkok, he paints with his body as a brush and his white clothes as a canvas. The soundtrack is about the relationship between parents and their child. Told intimately."
- Lumphini 2552 -- Tomonari Nishikawa's experimental photography reduces the flora of Lumpini park to a whooshing blur of patterns.
- Sink -- Kirsten Tan directs this Singaporean/Thai short, a "stylized black-and-white film about the relationship between a man and a sink in the sea. Playful with the uninhibited boy, reserved towards the violent young man and deteriorating but resigned with the old man, this sink symbolises man’s different life stages and prompts reflection."
The International Film Festival Rotterdam runs from January 27 to February 7.