Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Ten Years Thailand

Scala
Scala
Ten Years Thailand
Ten Years Thailand had its gala premiere yesterday at the Scala cinema in Bangkok (followed by a Q&A with three of its four directors: Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, and Chulayarnnon Siriphol). A portmanteau of four short films, it offers a dystopian vision of Thailand a decade from now, and represents a voice of dissent in a time of military rule. Thai history seems destined to repeat itself, stuck in an endless cycle of political instability. Thus, the future predicted by Ten Years Thailand is also a commentary on Thailand's past and present.

The film's first segment, Aditya's black-and-white Sunset, is based on an event that occurred last year. In the film, a group of soldiers inspect an art gallery and order the removal of 'inappropriate' images from a photography exhibition. The film's artist (Sirikanya Thomson) and exhibition (I Laughed so Hard I Cried) are fictional, though in 2017 a group of soldiers demanded the removal of photographs from Harit Srikhao's Whitewash exhibition at Gallery VER in Bangkok. For added verisimilitude, Aditya's restaging of the military's art censorship was filmed at Artist+Run, a gallery adjacent to Gallery VER. As an in-joke, Artist+Run's gallerist Angkrit Ajchariyasophon plays one of the soldiers in the film.

In Wisit's quirky Citizen Dog (หมานคร), city dwellers all grew tails. Catopia, his segment of Ten Years Thailand, is a much darker variant on the theme: almost everyone has (CGI) cat's heads, and the few remaining humans are hunted and killed. The film critiques Thailand's traditional values of social conformity and unity, and also echoes the country's anti-Communist paranoia of the 1970s, when suspected Communists and left-wing students were attacked by militia groups. Yet, despite its political satire, and some full-frontal female nudity in Wisit's segment, Ten Years Thailand was passed uncut by Thailand's censors, and even received a surprisingly lenient '13' rating.

In Chulayarnnon's science-fiction segment, Planetarium, citizens demonstrate loyalty by standing to respect their leader, and those who lie on the ground in protest (as in Chulayarnnon's short film Planking) are detained. The kitsch design elements (neon pyramids, an animated stargate, and pink costumes) are a mask for an authoritarian regime, just as Thailand's repressive junta pledged to 'bring back happiness to the people'. The leader and her minions all wear Scout uniforms, recalling the Village Scout vigilantes that instigated violent attacks on students in 1976. In Chulayarnnon's dystopian vision, the entire country has been taken over by this royalist militia.

Ten Years Thailand begins with a quotation adapted from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four ("Who controls the past... controls the future"), and Planetarium is the film's most Orwellian segment. Its vision of surveillance and obedience is shared with Thunska Pansittivorakul's Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), which used the same Orwell quote as its tagline.

Ten Years Thailand concludes with Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Song of the City, in which a man attempts to sell a "Good Sleep Machine" guaranteeing peaceful sleep. Throughout his sales pitch, a statue of military dictator Sarit Thanarat looms over him, indicating the perpetuation of the country's militaristic ideology. Sarit's ominous presence is also felt in Apichatpong's Cemetery of Splendour (รักที่ขอนแก่น), as his portrait hangs on a canteen wall. In that film, which was also made under military rule, soldiers suffer from a mysterious epidemic of sleeping sickness: for Apichatpong, sleep is a metaphor for an oppressive society, and a source of escapism for the oppressed.

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