15 June 2023

Cremation Ceremony

Cremation Ceremony

The faces of three politicians stare impassively at the viewer. The three men—Anutin Charnvirakul, Minister of Public Health; Abhisit Vejjajiva, former prime minister; and coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha—are responsible for three tragic injustices. Anutin oversaw the Thai government’s initially sluggish response to the coronavirus pandemic. Abhisit authorised the shooting of red-shirt protesters in 2010. Prayut’s government has revived lèse-majesté prosecutions, and dissidents who fled overseas have disappeared.

In his short film Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป), Vichart Somkaew sets fire to photographs of the three men, their faces distorting as the photographic paper burns. There is no sound except the crackling of the flame. This symbolic ritual is a reminder of the deaths of Covid victims, red-shirt protesters, and political dissidents, though it’s also a metaphorical act of retribution, as the three politicians have faced no consequences for their actions. (Anutin is a billionaire, Abhisit was cleared of all charges, and Prayut acts with total impunity.)

While the three portraits burn slowly, captions mourn the forgotten victims: red-shirts shot while sheltering in Wat Pathum Wanaram, political prisoners charged under article 112, and—most heartbreakingly—victims of the coronavirus. Arnon Nampa’s speech calling for reform of the monarchy is also summarised in the captions, and the film ends on an optimistic note: a final caption explains that pro-democracy parties “emerged victorious” in last month’s election. (Of course, the democratic coalition still faces plenty of hurdles before it can form a government.)

Cremation Ceremony’s Thai title is similar to that of Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film A Brief History of Memory (ประวัติศาสตร์ขนาดย่อของความทรงจำ), which also mourned the victims of political violence. The short film New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) also criticised the government’s flawed Covid response. The documentaries Democracy after Death (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย) and The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย) also held Abhisit culpable for the 2010 massacre. The exhibition A Minor History (ประวัติศาสตร์กระจ้อยร่อย) also highlighted the fate of exiled dissidents.

Cremation Ceremony will be shown at the AEY Space gallery in Songkla on 14th July and at Lorem Ipsum in Hat Yai on the following day. It will then be screened at the University of Phayao on 22nd August, as part of a programme organised by their Innovative Learning Institute.