Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PIFF '09: Accolades and undercurrents of censorship for Mundane History

Anocha "Mai" Suwichakornpong's debut feature Mundane History has generated good buzz at the Pusan International Film Festival, where it premiered on Sunday in the New Currents competition. It has two more screenings on Thursday and then will hopefully be awarded when the festival closes on Friday.

The Hollywood Reporter's Maggie Lee has a review. Here's an excerpt:

Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong's feature Mundane History may be loosely defined as "experimental" for some of the non-mainstream techniques she employs, but it is not art for art's sake. Themes of class, patriarchy, mortality, evolution, the cosmic scheme and Thai history are all floating beneath the surface of insipid peace in the bourgeois Thai family she depicts.

Critics and programmers of independent cinema should recognize her distinctive voice. But even an art house audience might conclude that the film is perplexing and abstract despite the simple story.

It's an even-handed review, geared for THR's industry-centric readership. I just skimmed it because I don't want to know too much more about Mundane History before I hopefully get to see it next month when it opens the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok.

The Hollywood Reporter has more about Mundane History and its "identity". Another snip:

For Thai first-time director Anocha Suwichakornpong, allegory was the best way to offer a critical look at Thai society and politics. Her US$150,000 Mundane History, now generating buzz in Busan after its world premiere on Sunday, is a political critique “disguised as a family drama.”

“The family itself is a microcosm of Thailand itself,” Suwichakornpong said. Fittingly, the film was partly financed by herself, her family and friends, and it has received funding twice from the Rotterdam Festival.

In his blog, the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee is enthustiastic and full of praise for the film and the director, who he hails as a voice of "New New Thai Cinema":
Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Jao Nok Krajok, (English title: Mundane History) ... is manifestly the most ambitious feature debut from a Thai filmmaker in years.


Anocha’s seemingly ordinary, astutely structured family drama is a movie with a cosmic aspiration: The story of a paralyzed son, his elusive father, and the male nurse hired to take care of the wheelchair-bound patient, slowly morphs and loops into a discussion of the human condition and the helplessness that every person -– every civilisation -– must face as a part of our evolutionary cycle. This human condition is biological, social, political and even astronomical; the film contains shots captured from the yellow-shirt demonstrations, as well as a shot of full-frontal nudity of the main character, both entirely relevant to the grand narrative of Anocha’s script..

I hinted earlier when I said I would "hopefully" get to see Mundane History because there are fears about censorship.

What's going to raise the eyebrows of the Culture Ministry's ratings squad is the full-frontal male nudity and masturbation. There is uncertainty over what they will deem acceptable, even under the 18+ or 20+ ratings. Also, there is the issue of a double standard -- that Thai films, especially those that are deemed to be critical of Thailand -- are more harshly judged than foreign films.

But it's too early to tell yet what will be permitted and what won't. I'll have to leave that issue hanging until there's something definite.

Update: Anocha and Mundane History are namechecked in IndieWire's wrap-up.

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