World premieres of new features by celebrated Thai indie filmmakers Uruphong Raksadad and Thunska Pansittivorakul are among the highlights of yet another strong Thai selection at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which has just completed its schedule.
Uruphong has The Songs of Rice (Pleng khong kao) premiering in the Bright Future program. It's a followup to his 2009 sophomore feature documentary Agrarian Utopia
Here's the synopsis:
In Thailand, a hymn to rice need not always be sung. A dance, or spectacular homemade fireworks can say the same thing. As can a film, as is convincingly demonstrated by this lyrical, beautifully filmed homage to this essential staple food.
In Thailand, rice is the basis of every meal. Little wonder then that the crop is praised in many ways. In this lyrical film, the rice cycle is given a musical accompaniment - from the moment the crop is planted in endless, moist fields beneath spectacular cloudy skies until the cooked rice is shared out in temples.
A significant part of the film is dedicated to the harvest celebrations, at which men race on bulls and set off huge (and potentially deadly) homemade fireworks, and women swathed in gleaming, colourful fabrics and headpieces move seductively to hypnotic, drawn-out beats.
There are songs praising the qualities of rice, songs about harvesting and preparing it - some simple, some accompanied by an exuberant film clip. And there are moments when the pace slackens - literally - when the images speak for themselves, in slow motion, and tell a story of deep-rooted traditions and affinity with the land that produces this celebrated foodstuff.
Thunska's latest opus is Supernatural (Nua dhamma chat), which makes its bow in the festival's Spectrum lineup. It looks to be exploring similar themes as 2010's Reincarnate and 2011's The Terrorists except that it's a fictional narrative feature – his first – marking a departure from his past efforts, which have all been documentaries or hybrid documentary dramas.
Here's the synopsis:
Science fiction about a future Thailand. Futuristic, experimental, homo-erotic and with elements of a political essay. With a richness of themes and impressions that wouldn’t get past the censor in Thailand. The maker doesn’t mince his words and isn’t afraid to look reality in the eye.
In a futurist world, the Thai kingdom has been transformed by ‘The Leader’ into 'the Realm of people who have done good deeds and earned merits'. It’s a nice place to be, even though the inhabitants are plagued by an indefinable nostalgia. In the old days, people could at least touch each other. Although the Realm has reached version 2.0, technical possibilities remain limited.
This wondrous story of the future is interwoven with stories set in the present and past. According to Pansittivorakul, known for his independently-produced and taboo-breaking documentaries on homosexuality and politics, his first feature is science fiction, yet it is about today’s Thailand. For instance he criticises the need for religion and superstition.
But in the end, this very idiosyncratic, homo-erotically charged essay is above all about time: ‘Time influences everything. The past has to do with the present, and the present is linked to the future.’
Dateline Bangkok has more about Supernatural, which similar to The Terrorists, is unlikely to ever be publicly screened in Thailand.
In the main Tiger Awards competition is previously announced Concrete Clouds, the feature directorial debut by well-known film editor Lee Chatametikool, which makes its European premiere following its debut in competition at last year's Busan International Film Festival.
Concrete Clouds received a lot of support from the IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund, which this year celebrates 25 years with a special program, Mysterious Objects – 25 Years of the Hubert Bals Fund. the title of course refers to Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 2000 debut feature, the experimental documentary Mysterious Object at Noon. It, alongside films by the likes of Chen Kaige, Carlos Reygadas and Elia Suleiman, will once again grace the big screen in Rotterdam.
Coincidentally, Apichatpong is among the producers of Concrete Clouds, with Lee having been the editor of most of Apichatpong's features.
Another European premiere is Letters from the South, an omnibus project about the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia. Among the six directors taking part is Thailand's Aditya Assarat, who describes between Paula and her friends, who have Chinese roots, with her cousin Mumu, who was born in China. Other segments are by Singapore's Royston Tan and Sun Koh, Myanmar's Midi Z and Malaysia's Tan Chui Mui. Tsai Ming-liang, also born in Malaysia, observes the seventh-storey apartment in which he grew up as a child.
Also in the Bright Future is the popular Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy by Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, whose feature debut 36 was in the Tiger Awards competition last year.
The Thai selection is rounded out with a pair entries in the Spectrum Shorts program – Pimpaka Towira's Thai-Myanmar border drama Malaria and Mosquitos and Sorayos Prapapan's mistreated-maid tale Boonrerm.
Looks like another big year for indie Thai filmmakers freezing their butts off in the Netherlands. The International Film Festival Rotterdam runs from January 22 to February 2.