Sunday, February 7, 2010

IFFR 2010 review: Reincarnate

  • Directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul
  • Starring Panuwat Wisessiri
  • World premiere at 2010 International Film Festival Rotterdam; reviewed on screener DVD
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5

I'll never look at an orange the same way again. In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to eat one. Traumatized by citrus fruit is what I am, all thanks to Thunska Pansittivorakul and his new feature, Reincarnate.

Oranges actually cause the main character in Reincarnate to become nauseous. He explains his mother always gave them to him, and he never told her they made him ill. It's just one of the many mysteries of Reincarnate.

Full of Thunska's wickedly playful sense of humor, his indulgences and uncompromising viewpoints, Reincarnate is a quintessential work by the maverick gay indie filmmaker. It's a challenge to watch, at least it was for me, but is not without rewards. It may be his best work yet.

Thunska does not shy away from reveling in the naked flesh of the male form. His camera explores his young actor's body like it's a new world, waiting to be discovered. His hand reaches out and caresses that bare skin, and, at one point, massages a young man's penis to an erection and strokes it until he has what is purported to be legitimate Thai cinema's first money shot.

It's not the only thing that will provoke Thailand's censors, who take a dim view of just showing genitalia, let alone long, staring takes that serve as anatomical studies.

In prologue text, Thunska details the history of Thailand's first ratings system coming into effect in 2009 and the banning of his previous feature This Area Is Under Quarantine from the 2009 World Film Festival of Bangkok.

Quarantine addressed Islam and homosexuality in Thai society, and culminated in two young men -- one Buddhist from Northeast Thailand the other a Muslim from Southern Thailand -- having sex in a hotel room. But the reason cited for the film's ban wasn't because of the nudity and sex but because it contained suppressed footage from 2004's Tak Bai incident, in which male Muslim protesters were rounded up, bound and stuffed into trucks. Some 85 detainees died, mostly from suffocation.

Reincarnate -- the title signifying a rebirth or reboot -- also delves into Thai politics and society. The prologue text helpfully explains Thailand's color-coded political factions -- yellow for the middle- and upper-class Bangkok elite who supported the 2006 coup that unseated populist billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who's supported by the red-shirted rural poor. There's also the shadowy blue shirts who serve the self-interests of influential political coalition leader Newin Chidchob.

Lounging in their room at an island resort, the director-cameraman and his actor play the woodblock stacking game of Jenga. The blocks are painted red, yellow and blue. Build the wobbly tower up, pull one of the blocks out and watch it topple.

There is also allusive commentary about the proliferation of the invasive water hyacinth, an aquatic plant that chokes out native flora and fauna in the estuaries and rivers.

Yet through the jerking off and metaphors about Thai society, Reincarnate is actually a pleasure to watch.

An interesting effect is when the "student" stands in front of a window, one side of which is open and has bright sunlight streaming through, silhouetting the man's figure. The other side of the window is closed, filtering the light and providing a contrasting half. Another scene has the light streaming down at an angle, framing the man as he showers. Cigarette smoke hovers in the light. There's strobe effects in one scene and shaky cam in another as the subject is chased through ruined huts, causing me to think "oh, experimental".

The film travels the breadth and length of the country, hitting the historic island of Koh Si Chang, at one time a royal retreat but now an anchorage point for freighter ships and weekend getaway for Bangkok holidaymakers. Trat province further down the Eastern Seaboard, next door to Cambodia is another location. And there is documentary footage of a son visiting his mother in Songkhla in the South, crediting Thai indie film godfather Apichatpong Weerasethakul as producer.

Like the orange, Reincarnate is a luscious, juicy film. Beautifully framed and full of infectious playful energy and experimentalism. And hard to categorize. Travelogue, documentary, romantic drama, political satire and social commentary make an intoxicating, sticky and possibly volatile cocktail. Just watch out where you're sticking that thumb.

It will likely never be shown publicly in Thailand. See it if you dare!

Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please, no questions or comments about where to download movies or subtitle files.

Please read the FAQ about Thai films on DVD before asking about where to find a Thai movie on DVD with English subtitles.

Make your comments pertinent to the post you are commenting on. For off-topic comments, general observations or news tips, consider sending an e-mail to me at wisekwai [ a t ] g m a i l [d o t ] c o m.

All comments are moderated. Spam comments will be deleted.