Thursday, 19 November 2020

Avalon

Thunska Pansittivorakul’s new autobiographical documentary Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์) begins with a full-frontal sex scene between Thunska and his then-boyfriend Harit Srikhao. (Co-director Harit’s exhibition Whitewash was censored by the military in 2017.) Harit is twenty years younger than Thunska, and the dynamic between them recalls the similar opening sequence in Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo) by Carlos Reygadas.

Around half of Avalon’s one-hour running time consists of sex tapes recorded at different stages of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, including a ménage à trois with Itdhi Phanmanee, who co-directed sPACEtIME (กาล-อวกาศ) with Thunska and Harit. Few contemporary films are as revealing (both physically and emotionally) in their exploration of an artist’s sexual history, and Avalon has more in common with New York underground films of fifty years ago, such as Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses and Kathy Acker’s Blue Tape.

Although Thunska has included hardcore sequences in several of his previous films—Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา)—Avalon is his most explicit work. It’s also a logical extension of his increasingly participatory filmmaking style: in Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม) he attempted to pull down a man’s shorts, in the short film Unseen Bangkok (มหัศจรรย์กรุงเทพ) he touched a man’s penis while interviewing him, and in Reincarnate he masturbated one of his actors.

Avalon also includes scenes filmed at a housing project abandoned after Thailand’s 2011 floods. The floods were mismanaged by Yingluck Shinawatra’s incoming administration, though Avalon is less political than Thunska’s other recent films, such as Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล; also co-directed by Harit). (For Thunska, however, sex on screen is itself a political act.) The deserted location, with an empty swimming pool, could be a metaphor for the Avalon of the title: an idyllic and private space, like the island of Arthurian legend.

There is also a flipside, however: the film charts the disintegration of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, and the empty pool evokes Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques, with its own doomed love triangle. (The title sequences of Avalon and Les diaboliques both feature lingering shots of murky, stagnant water.) The accusations and recriminations resulting from the break-up (blocking each other on social media, etc.) are the least engaging aspects of the film.

Avalon received its world premiere on 28th October at the DOK Leipzig film festival in Germany. A Thai release would be impossible, though after his film This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน) was banned, Thunska has refused to submit any of his films for classification. As he told me in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, “Since then, I decided not to show any of my films in Thailand.”

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