Sunday, November 18, 2012

10th WFFBKK: Victor is awarded

Victor Silakong accepts the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award from the French government.

World Film Festival of Bangkok director Victor Silakong is usually the one giving the awards, but on Friday, at the opening of the 10th edition of his annual fest, Victor was on the receiving end, as he was inducted into the French government's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and given the ranking of chevalier, making him a knight.

The French government's cultural honor has been bestowed on a few other Thais. By happy coincidence, another member of the order is Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who was also present on Friday with his Mekong Hotel as the opening film. He has been decorated twice by the French order, and now holds the rank of "officier". He appeared on stage with Victor wearing blue suede shoes, a dark suit jacket and a T-shirt that says "No 112", in reference to Article 112, Thailand's lèse majesté law.

Teem and Joei and "No 112".
Victor's cultural achievements aren't only limited to putting on the film festival. A native of Betong in southern Thailand (Nonzee Nimibutr made a movie about the border town, Okay Baytong), Victor's Thai-Chinese upbringing put an emphasis on education. He eventually won a scholarship to study theater at L'Ecole Florent in France. He's fluent in several languages, including French. He's staged several plays, including an adaptation of Carmen that mixed contemporary dance with Thai shadow puppets. Another was his staging of Pierre de Marivaux's The Isle of Slaves as a likay (Thai folk opera) production, complete with singers in sparkly traditional costume. This year, Victor was at the helm for the ambitious musical Reya, an adaptation of a hit TV soap that in turn was adapted from a novel by Taitao Sucharitkul. The musical was composed by Taitao's son, conductor Somtow Sucharitkul.

More about Victor can be found in a Nation article and in the Bangkok Post's Sunday Brunch section.

On Friday, Victor was more excited to have as his guest the French director Leos Carax, who is the recipient of the festival's annual Lotus Award, which is essentially a lifetime achievement honor.

The award was handed to Carax by Sonthaya Kunpleum, a member of the powerful Pattaya political clan who was made culture minister in the latest Cabinet reshuffle. The post had been held by his wife, but Sonthaya, who just came off a five-year ban from politics, is now back. He made a long speech in Thai that was not translated.

Upon receiving his award Carax said just one word that needs no translation: "Merci."

But the press-averse Carax had more to say yesterday after the screening of his latest movie Holy Motors – a tour du force for actor Denis Lavant – treating the audience to a question-and-answer session. Lavant stars as an actor who rides around in a limo and dresses the part as he services various "clients". His adventures include being a green-suited homeless man who violently disrupts a fashion shoot and absconds with model Eva Mendes. He explained that he shot the movie very quickly without viewing the dailies and that it's science fiction, though "more fiction than science".

The festival is taking place at the Esplanade Ratchada as it did earlier this year (the ninth edition had been postponed from last November because of the flooding).

Yesterday's first full day of screenings saw a good crowd for Holy Motors. Festival-goers had to contend with long lines at the ticket counter due to the fact that the festival coincides with the opening weekend of the latest (and hopefully last) Twilight movie, which is playing on every screen at the Esplanade except for the three in use by the festival.

Aside from Holy Motors, other noteworthy films include Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre, and a package of Dutch films like Win/Win, Meet the Fokkens and The Happy Housewife, that are offered as part of the concurrent Dutch Film Festival in Bangkok.

In addition to Holy Motors and The Happy Housewife, I saw a Ukrainian film, Gaamer, because when else will I ever have a chance to see a Ukrainian film?

Folks have lamented that there aren't many Thai films this year, except for Mekong Hotel. Though several notable indie Thai films have been made this year, the directors have all opted for limited local theatrical releases rather than to submit to the WFFBKK. They reach a broader local audience and qualify for industry awards that way, but film-goers who come to Bangkok specifically for the World Film Festival in hopes of seeing new Thai films are left disappointed.

There is director Shane Bunnag's documentary The Elephant Shaman, which is tipped as a "must see" by Victor and deputy director Dusit Silakong.

And there are packages of Thai shorts in the Short Wave programs, including some of the award-winning shorts like A Belt and a Comb and The Farmer that were made by ethnic filmmakers in a workshop put on by the Chiang Mai NGO Friends Without Borders and screened at the Fly Beyond the Barbwire Fence Festival. Sadly, because of niggling digital projector problems yesterday, the Message from the North package was not shown.

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