Monday, August 26, 2013

Short 17 reviews: The Death Trilogy, White Elephant 1

Mothers and fathers want justice in The Death Trilogy, an anthology of recent shorts by veteran filmmaker Pimpaka Towira, screened as a special program of the 17th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

My Father (พ่อ ), which won a special mention at the Vladivostok International Film Festival in 2011, has the title character, a janitor at an upcountry railway station, upset over the brusque treatment of his boss. So he writes a letter of protest, which costs him his job. He then heads to Bangkok and ends up joining the red-shirt rally, but the film only shows him coming back a broken, emasculated man. Having lost his job, he's no longer the breadwinner. Plus he's suffering from a stomach ailment. So he lingers around the house, caring for a baby while the wife works and the older daughter is packed off to Bangkok. He is a sad dad.

All three of The Death Trilogy films are open-ended, but My Father is the least hopeful of the bunch. It's punctuated at the end by a lively dance by the grandmother, who chants about the cycle of life and its depressing inevitability.

The Mother (แม่), which was featured at the International Film Festival Rotterdam this year, takes place at the funeral of a 13-year-old girl. The 15-minute piece is a single-shot work, breathlessly covering the last day of the funeral ceremonies. Not many people have turned up, except for a local village "big man" and his lackey. Seems the "big man" may have had something to do with the girl's death, and the young lackey, portrayed by Wanlop Rungkumjad of Eternity (Tee-Rak) and 36, is instructed to "take care" of the matter with the mother. But the fierce mom (Chontida Praton) is stubborn. And the threat of a cellphone video clip looms.

Rounding out the trio is the newest piece, Malaria and Mosquitoes, a 24-minute drama that Pimpaka has been shopping around the project markets in hopes of turning into a feature. It has possibilities, and is also the most hopeful in terms of how things might end up for the main character. She is a young widowed Karen immigrant, whose husband served as a border patrolman for Thailand and was shot dead in his boat on the river along the Thai-Myanmar boundary. The wife is eager to sell the boat, which still has her husband's blood stains on it, but her mother-in-law wants to wait for the Thai authorities to inspect the boat and give her compensation for her son's death. Mother and daughter-in-law are pitted in a battle of wills. For young Nawda, the wife, selling the boat represents the quickest means of obtaining the money she needs to secure Thai citizenship and a brighter future from under the lash of her in-law. The betel-nut-chewing mother takes things into her own hands with a unique solution, which raises questions that might be answered in a longer film.

Video capture of Wang Ploeng Intersection via Limitless Cinema.

Another tale of injustice was offered in Wang Ploeng Intersection (สี่แยกวังเพลิง), the lead-off entry of White Elephant 1, the first program of shorts in the competition for college-student filmmakers. By far the strongest entry in this selection (Limitless Cinema gives it good marks), Natpakan Khemkhaw's 20-minute drama is the fact-based story of a poor family under threat when the mother is hauled in by the police and charged with an apparently heinous crime that carries a 200,000-baht fine and/or a jail sentence. What, exactly, was the horrible thing the mother did? The short waits until the end to tell us, and I don't want to spill it here except to say it has to do with a particularly draconian part of the 2008 Film Law.

Instead, the film takes its sweet time showing just how hard things are for the poor family, in which mother is the primary breadwinner and motorcycle driver. The father, who has one leg, helps out however he can, sewing clothes and looking after their two schoolchildren, a boy and a girl. Mother works the land and dad sews clothes, but it isn't enough. The one-legged pop takes things particularly hard, and comes up with a solution that's strikingly similar to the dad in Pimpaka's My Father.

Next best in the program was Hey Manob I Really Need You by Tanaset Siriwattanadirek and Wandee Taboonpong, about a chubby woman who is infatuated with barista at a coffee shop. She gets her chance to be with him when she finds a cache of buried jewelry at a construction site, and one of the baubles transforms her from a plump woman with good teeth to a skinny girl with braces and a revealing dress. Inspired by watching Star Wars Episode III, she gets the coffee shop guy to go to a Star Wars convention. But, just as the power of the dark side failed Anakin Skywalker, the ring's powers backfire on the woman, but with more-hilarious results. She, after all, still has her arms and legs, is not Darth Vader, and there is definite hope.

Two others were sentimental family tales that dragged, despite their 20-minute lengths. Come Back by Watharapong Pattama is about a mother trying to reconcile with the son she abandoned years before, while Tanatorn Chalongkwamdee's Moment in Time is about "picture perfect family", but the young woman and her father are at odds over the illness of the younger sister. Can't they just get along? No, I guess they can't.

The final entry, Jirassaya Wongsutin's She Is My Best Friend dragged less, thanks to its 12-minute length and the back-and-forth motion of badminton. It has two girls, best friends and neighbors, meeting to play the game, when one girl's mother yells down at them to reveal some bad news. Seems the more-needy of the pair will have to learn to stand on her own sooner than she expected.

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