Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Last Life in London

London's Telegraph talks to Pen-Ek Ratanaruang about one of his favorite directors, Jim Jarmsuch, who has seen Last Life in the Universe.

"We played it to Jim Jarmusch and his colleagues in a private screening in New York," Pen-Ek told the Telegraph. "When we met in New York last month, he told me he loved the film. It meant a lot to me."

It was Jarmusch's second full-length feature, Stranger Than Paradise (1983), that really captivated the young Pen-Ek, says The Telegraph. Born in Bangkok in 1962, he first saw the film in New York. He had moved there in 1977 to study art history at the city's Pratt Institute, before working as a freelance illustrator and designer. It was a period of his life he remembers fondly:
New York is where I caught the cinema virus. Living there made me aware of art cinema and world cinema and personal cinema. It introduced me to the cinema of Fellini, Bergman, Woody Allen. And Jim Jarmusch cinema, of course."

"I didn't know anything about this film at all," Pen-Ek admits. "I didn't know who Jim Jarmusch was. I just happened to walk past a cinema downtown and I saw this black-and-white poster showing two guys standing and a girl in a car, all of them wearing sunglasses. It was a great poster. I went in to see the film because of the poster.

"It was the most charming thing I had ever seen. I couldn't believe cinema could be about something so small, so unimportant, so lazy and yet so funny and moving and so unpretentious. It was a very special feeling. I didn't want to go anywhere after the film finished. I just wanted to go sit somewhere and smoke cigarettes. It was magical for me. Every scene involving the character Aunt Lotte is great. She's superbly natural. When I was watching the film for the first time I was wondering whether she knew there was a camera recording her and that she was in a movie.

"I'm sure it must have had some sort of influence on my own film-making, but I don't know what exactly. And that's not very important. What's important for me is that Stranger Than Paradise introduced me to another kind of mentality and taste; a taste very natural to me but which I didn't know. After that film, I started reading about Jarmusch and following his later films, got to know and love the cinematography of Robbie Muller, got to watch and enter into the films and universe of Aki Kaurismaki, got to know Ozu's films, got to listen to Tom Waits."

Pen-Ek and Jarmusch share some of the same tastes, especially music.
"It's very important. We always edit with it. We often edit with music - for rhythm - then remove it later. In Last Life In The Universe we wanted the audience not to notice when the music comes in or when it goes out. It's there to create atmosphere. I'm drawn to any style of music as long as it's sad. I'm very fond of depressing music. I think it's beautiful. My favourite musicians are Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Marianne Faithfull."
Pen-Ek also talked about what makes him laugh and cry.
"When you run your finger across the underside of my foot, that will definitely make me laugh a lot. Marijuana makes me laugh a lot too. If someone tells me I cannot have Thai food in the next three days, that would make me cry. If someone tells me I cannot make films anymore, I would cry. Every Kaurismaki film always makes me cry - they are very, very beautiful films."
He also talks about Tropical Malady.
"Tropical Malady is definitely one of my favourite films of this year, and not because Apichatpong is a good friend. He's a seriously good filmmaker. The few of us here have, in the past four to five years, done our fair share of inspiring and helping young filmmakers. Nowadays, it's great for young filmmakers living in Thailand. It is not necessarily that their films are good, but they get the opportunities to make their films. How good they are or will become depends entirely on their own talent, conviction and ambition."
He talks about his next project: another collaboration with Last Life lensman Christopher Doyle and co-writer Prabda Yoon.
"It's about cooking, food, sex, murder and has lots and lots of dialogue in all sorts of languages. This one is very difficult. We're still looking for money for the project."
The Telegraph's Tim Robey also provided a capsule review of Last Life, but to save you the trouble of registering to read it, here it is:
Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang's spacey romantic drama is a disappointment after his vibrant Monrak Transistor, never coming together in the offbeat way you want.
The guys apparently doesn't like any movies, but with the likes of King Arthur, New York Minute and Garfield: The Movie, I don't blame him.

Monday, August 2, 2004

Last Life in Translation

The New York Times reports that Last Life in the Universe has opened in New York City.

They compare it to Lost in Translation, a comparison that director Pen-ek Ratanaruang is used to.

"Everyone says it's a companion piece," he told the Times. "Well, it's a love story that doesn't come to anything. In the end they didn't get together. Maybe they will get together after. So that's very similar. And there's some Japan connection."

Here's more:

There's also the fact that both are melancholy mood pieces, veined with black humor and beautiful to look at, about foreigners adrift in Asian cities. And the connections don't end there: at last year's Venice International Film Festival, Lost in Translation and Last Life split the acting awards in their area of competition. Scarlett Johansson won for playing a mixed-up American in Japan in Sofia Coppola's film, and Asano Tadanobu won for playing a mixed-up Japanese in Thailand in Mr. Ratanaruang's.

The question is, which is the companion piece? Many viewers may find that Last Life in the Universe, shot by the prodigious Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, The Quiet American), holds up awfully well against its Oscar-winning sister. Mr. Ratanaruang, 42, who studied art at the Pratt Institute in New York and worked in graphic design and advertising before taking up film, shares Ms. Coppola's international hipster tastes (he approves of Tom Waits and Haruki Murakami), but works with a greater languor and deadpan fatalism -- east of Jim Jarmusch, west of Wong Kar-Wai.

Mr. Ratanaruang, who manages to be simultaneously diffident and sly in conversation, says of his first American release: "If you don't like the film, I think you're okay. But if you do like it, I think you have problems. Because the people who seem to like the film, they have broken hearts, they're very lonely. They all have problems."