Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WFFBKK '09: Capsule reviews part 2

Guts Short Programme 1

This is a collection of shorts from Thai directors.
  • The Great Dictator by Noraset Vaisayakul is inspired by Charlie Chaplin's film and it reminded me of something out of 1984 or Equilibrium, with a figurehead leader appearing in agitprop fashion to calm citizens even as the country is burning down around him. The English subtitles added playfulness, as they would be made bigger to emphasize some parts of the speech.
  • Lumphini 2552 by video artist Tomonari Nishikawa is a fast-moving montage of black and white photos of vegetation found in Bangkok's central park.
  • Man and Gravity: Plateau by Jakrawal Nilthamrong is the second of two films on a theme taken from Buddhist scripture about how possessions weigh a man down. In this one, made while Jakrawal was on a fellowship in Japan, a man tries to drag, push and pull a giant ball up a hill.
  • There's something familiar about My Mother and Her Portrait by Chaisiri Jiwarangsan, in that it includes young men holding Roman candles, shooting fireballs into the night sky, and of youths playing under a light in a field. If it seems awfully similar to recent works by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it's because Chaisiri -- a stills photographer for Apichatpong's Kick the Machine -- shot his film in Nabua, Nakhon Phanom on the sidelines of Apitchatpong's Primitive project.
  • Thematically similar to the preceding short and also really cool is Now Showing by Nitipong Thinthupthai, which features boys in a village imaginatively playing violent movie action scenes. And then an outdoor film screening comes to town to show an old Red Eagle film. The boys then stage their own outdoor theater. Using an open flame to light the back of a small screen, they put on a shadow puppet show until their screen burns up. It's the end of cinema in the countryside.
  • Parallel: The Dawn, The Day, The Dusk, The Dark by Sudsiri Pui-Ock uses split-screens to place one set of railroad tracks horizontally as mirrored images, creating the effect of two sets of tracks rushing away from each other. Snaking patterns are followed as the camera clickety-clacks over the iron tracks and crossties, through switches and intersections and over trestles.
  • Spirits by Chulayarnnon Siriphol is filmed in Bangkok's Q Bar during the day, when there's hardly anybody around, but the audio is taken from perhaps the night before, and faint images of the nightclub's patrons are seen, like ghosts.
  • The Absent Island: A Soundscape Video by Marut lekphet, aka Nok Paksnavin, is filmed at dusk and into the night in a Moken (sea gypsy) village in the Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea off Phuket. It shows what goes on in a Moken village, as residents turn on their TV sets to watch Bollywood movies and Thai VCDs.
My favorites of the bunch are Now Showing and The Great Dictator (5/5 for the whole package).

I Am the Director -- Young filmmaker Nitchapoom Chaianun interviews nine directors -– five established ones and four who hope to make it big. The name players are Sakchai Deenan, Aditya Assarat, Wittaya Tong-U-Yong, Chookiat Sakveerakul and Komkrit Treewimol, with the upstart guys being Uten Sririwi, Supakit Seksuwan, Harin Paesongthai and Pitchaya Jarusboonpracha. Oftentimes hilariously contradictory, the directors talk about what makes them a good director -- they all agree EGO (the subtitles' caps, not mine) is the main thing. But how much EGO? Too much and you come off like a prick, but not enough and you won't earn any respect. I would have liked to know more about the different backgrounds of the established guys. Sakchai Deenan, for example, is a veteran but is basically only known for last year's Sabaidee Luang Prabang. What's he been doing? Aditya, director of Wonderful Town, chose to start his own production company. How's that working out compared to the guys who are in the studio system -- two of the Fan Chan six Wittaya and Komgrit at GTH and Love of Siam's Chukiat at Baa Ram Ewe/Sahamongkol? Adding context was the special treat of three of the younger directors' shorts, Resurrection (zombies!) by Harin Paesongthai, Space, the college freshy romance by Pichaya Jarusboonpracha, and The Love (pestering your grandparents while they try to sleep) by Supakit Seksuwan. (4/5)

White Days -- Similar in tone to In the House of Straw, seen at that other film festival, the experimental Singaporean feature White Days is full of existentialist musings by young people who are wondering what to do with their lives. Black and white adds to the indie aesthetic of this improvised absurdist drama about three friends. One is a young man who is obsessed with Israel. Having returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he won't shut up about it. But his friends indulge him. Maybe they are looking for inspiration. A young woman wants to leave her job in Singapore and make a pilgrimage of her own -- to the Taipei sites she's seen in the films of Tsai Ming-liang. The improvisational aspects make this a pretty daring film. Particularly brave is an extended scene where the three characters are sitting on a curb just off a busy street, just talking. Anything could have happened. Reality and performance blend, with the film's structure actually coming together in the editing process -- a credit to the creativity and skill of the debuting director, Lei Yuan Bin (Looi Wan Ping), who also edited and was cinematographer. (4/5)

A Mischievous Smile Lights Up Her Face -- At night, on a film set, in the forest, an actor and a script girl are hanging out. The audio begins, and then the man explains what is happening, saying that Alfred Hitchcock has walked out of the pet shop with a pair of white terriers. It's The Birds. You hear it, but you do not see it. In between the dialogue, the man narrates what is happening, while on screen there is a light romance developing. Directed by Christelle Lheureux, A Mischievous Smile Lights Up Her Face is intended as a film for blind people. It's a deconstructionist way of interpreting a classic film, with the result being it was actually more suspenseful in some ways than the work of the Master himself. It also makes me want to watch The Birds again, and maybe see a similar experiment done with some of my favorite films. Additionally, this would be a great double bill with Double Take. (5/5)

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