03 October 2008

Ploy (DVD)

In Ploy, by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, a jet-lagged husband and wife arrive at a Thai hotel after their flight from America. At 5am, the husband (Wit) goes to the hotel bar for a smoke, and meets a teenage girl (Ploy). Wit invites Ploy up to the hotel room to rest, which naturally angers his wife (Daeng). Frustrated and jealous, Daeng goes out to a cafe, where she is chatted up by a stranger who invites her back to his apartment.

The romance has gone from Wit and Daeng's marriage - it's reached its expiration date, as Wit explains to Ploy. In contrast, in another room, the hotel's bartender has a passionate relationship with one of the maids. These scenes were deemed unacceptable by Thai censors, and the film was released here in a less explicit version, though the director's cut was screened at last year's Bangkok International Film Festival. The film was released on VCD in its cut version, though the Thai DVD is uncut and includes an audio commentary by Pen-ek.

Wit, Daeng, and Ploy all drift in and out of sleep, and we are never quite sure what is real and what is a dream. The film's slow pace, long silences, and ambient soundtrack all enhance the sleepy atmosphere. An early murder sequence is certainly a fantasy, though other scenes - the bartender's relationship with the maid, a potentially fatal encounter for Daeng, and a reconciliatory conclusion for the married couple - are more ambiguous, and could perhaps also have been dreamt by the three main characters. This may explain some confusing plot points: why did the receptionist tell Daeng that Wit and Ploy had left together when it was not true (like the proprietor of the McKittrick Hotel in Vertigo), and, more importantly, how did Daeng recover from her (ultimately melodramatic) ordeal so quickly?

The film reminded me of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, in its themes (marital jealousy and sexual fantasy), its structure (confusion between dreams and reality; the slow pacing; the dangerous, illicit adventure and subsequent reconciliation), and even its score. Last year, Pen-Ek noted that Stanley Kubrick is one of his inspirations, and also that he is more interested in funerals than weddings. (In this film, Wit and Daeng are returning to Thailand to attend a funeral.) Pen-ek's recent films, including Ploy, share an emotional detachment evident in Eyes Wide Shut and in Kubrick's work generally.