Saturday, February 20, 2010

Agrarian Utopia, Mundane History, Boonmee and In Space in San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival

Agrarian Utopia and Mundane History, two of my picks for best Thai films of 2009, are showing at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Two Thai shorts are in the line-up as well, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and In Space by Visra Vichit-Vadakan.

Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia (Sawan Baan Na) is in the documentary showcase and is a dramatic look at rice farming in Thailand, where "strapped by crippling debts and interest rates, the families share a plot of land; the fertile soil offers them potential riches, but market prices may reduce their crop value to almost nothing."

A recent Tiger Award winner in Rotterdam and also set for New York screenings, Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History (Jao Nok Krajok) is a family social-class drama about a young paralyzed man and the male nurse hired to attend to his mundane daily needs, touching on "masturbatory frustrations and ... fantasies of a dying cosmic star [in a] karmically interlinked universe." Check the trailer at the festival website.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee is part of his larger multi-platform Primitive art project that visits the village of Nabua, Nakhon Phanom, which was subject to a brutal and deadly anti-communist crackdown by the Thai military in 1965. In the film, young men read a letter to the mystical, constantly reincarnated Uncle Boonmee, describing the village as the camera floats around like a butterfly through the magical atmopshere Apichatpong has created. The short, which has been featured at many festivals, recently made its online premiere, but I recommend seeing it in the cinema, just for the effect of total immersion.

Finally, there's In Space, by Visra Vichit-Vadakan, which was featured at last year's World Film Festival of Bangkok. "Pai lives with his grandparents and mischievously idles away his time working at a New York grocery market. He doesn’t give much thought to his grandmother’s suggestion to become a monk, until he realizes that he can reunite the family in the afterlife."

The San Francisco Asian American Film Festival runs from March 11 to 21.

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