Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WFFBKK 2014 review: Somboon

  • Directed by Krisda Tipchaimeta
  • Starring Somboon Ruekkhumyee, Lamaid Ruekkhumyee
  • Opening film of 12th World Film Festival of Bangkok, October 24, 2014
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

A bittersweet and gentle documentary, Somboon (ปู่สมบรูณ์ , Poo Somboon), is a portrait of a couple in their winter years, with the husband devoted to caring for his chronically ailing wife.

The debut feature of 28-year-old film-school graduate Krisda Tipchaimeta, Somboon was filmed over the course of four years, and follows the daily routine of the elderly Somboon as he tends to the needs of Miad, his wife of more than 45 years. Suffering from kidney disease, among many other ailments, Miad undergoes dialysis treatments at home. It's a laborious process for Somboon, who administers the kidney flush every four hours, in addition to bathing his wife and tending to her other needs. It's unflinching, warts and all, as the nude woman is gently and patiently washed on her front doorstep.

There's a visit to the hospital, a 30-mile trip that Somboon and Miad must complete each month. They leave their rustic riverside home in Ayutthaya and go by tuk-tuk, the three-wheel motorized rickshaw that's common on Thai roads. And it's quite a process to get the heavy-set wheelchair-bound woman in and out of the vehicle.

The medical treatments are interspersed with solo interviews with Somboon, a wiry, terrier-like gentleman, still sharply handsome. With a gleam in his eye, he recalls his early life and the arranged marriage with Miad.

On its face, Somboon does not appear to be political, nor does it offer any overt commentary on Thai society. Nonetheless, there probably is a message in there somewhere about the rickety state of Thai public health policies, but the documentary also speaks volumes about the strength and closeness of the family unit.

Politics do come up eventually, courtesy of the 2011 flood that inundated the Central Plains and suburban Bangkok. Ayutthaya bore much of the brunt of the flooding, as authorities sought to spare Bangkok from the deluge. So we see news footage Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (ousted earlier this year and eventually replaced by a military coup) touring the floods. Especially revealing is a daughter's epic journey through the floods, hiring boats herself to bring much-needed medical supplies to Somboon.

With Ayutthaya largely cut off, it was up to Somboon's family to keep the documentary going, so footage shot during this time was done with a consumer-grade camera, and the resulting images are grainy. So when the footage switches back to the director's own high-resolution camera, it's dramatic, but also somber because circumstances for Somboon have changed, and a new stage of life for him has begun.

Somboon follows a trend in Thai cinema, with indie filmmakers getting increasingly bold with their depictions of family life. Other examples have included Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul's Mother, the films of Sivaroj Kongsakul and the early shorts of Chulayarnnon Siriphol, who courageously put their own families on the screen. Krisda, on the other hand, was turned onto Somboon by a film professor, but with the family helping out and giving consent, his film has the same intimate feel as those others. Perhaps Krisda and his producers can find a way to engage Somboon and include him in their next project?

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