12 December 2022

15th World Film Festival of Bangkok

15th World Film Festival of Bangkok

The 15th World Film Festival of Bangkok (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์โลกแห่งกรุงเทพฯ ครั้งที่ 15) opened on 2nd December, and closed yesterday with an award for veteran Thai New Wave director Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the Thai premiere of Sorayos Prapapan’s Arnold Is a Model Student (อานนเป็นนักเรียนตัวอย่าง). There had been a five-year hiatus since the 14th festival, which was held in 2017.

In his acceptance speech, Apichatpong recalled the Ministry of Culture’s dismissal of his work, and told young directors, in both Thai and English, “don’t give a damn” about such attitudes. Phantoms of Nabua (ผีนาบัว), perhaps Apichatpong’s greatest short film, will be shown at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya on 23rd December as part of the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival (เทศกาลภาพยนตร์สั้นครั้งที่ 26).

Kriengsak Silakong, the World Film Festival’s founder and organiser, sadly died earlier this year, and the Lotus award for lifetime achievement has been renamed in his honour. (Kriengsak’s final public appearance was in February this year, when he interviewed Apichatpong at the Thai premiere of Memoria.) Like the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th festivals, this year’s event was held at CentralWorld’s SF World cinema. (The 6th, 7th, and 8th festivals were held at Paragon Cineplex; the 5th, 9th, and 10th took place at Esplanade Cineplex.)

Arnold Is a Model Student

Over the past decade, Sorayos has made witty, satirical short films such as Dossier of the Dossier (เอกสารประกอบการตัดสินใจ), Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้), and New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่). He has also dabbled in documentary filmmaking, with Prelude of the Moving Zoo and Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. His debut feature Arnold Is a Model Student combines both of these elements, sharp satire mixed with found footage. The film was conceived in the aftermath of the 2014 coup, when the military’s authority was accepted unquestioningly by large swathes of the population. Eight years later, the film is complete and the junta leader remains in power.

The eponymous Arnold coasts through his final school year, while his classmates rebel against institutional authoritarianism, personified by the matronly teacher Ms Wanee, who tells them: “Know your place and you will be successful.” This somewhat feudalistic attitude persists in wider Thai society, and is inculcated by an education system that encourages conformity. The film’s parody of a traditional instructional video—“How to Behave Elegantly Like a Thai”, in which Ms Wanee teaches students to prostrate before their elders—seems absurd, though it’s based on a real video made by the Ministry of Culture, as seen in the documentary Censor Must Die (เซ็นเซอร์ต้องตาย).

The film’s high school is a microcosm of Thailand—as in the recent music videos อีกไม่นาน นานแค่ไหน (‘how long is ‘soon’?’) and อนาคตคือ (‘the future is...’)—and the connection to contemporary politics is clear. Arnold attends a REDEM rally, and symbols of state authority are visible throughout the school, from a large portrait of Rama X in the headmaster’s office to the number 112 on a table in the computer lab. (The lèse-majesté law is article 112 of the criminal code.) When the fictional high school students organise a protest, their headmaster orders them back to class. Cut to: documentary footage of water cannon being deployed against anti-government protesters, with riot police shouting “Disperse now!”