08 December 2023

112 News from Heaven

112 News from Heaven

Vichart Somkaew’s short documentary 112 News from Heaven juxtaposes news that’s broadcast on all channels every day with news that goes unreported by mainstream outlets. On the soundtrack, an announcer reads a bulletin of royal news, a daily staple of Thai television and radio. This is contrasted with captions documenting news of “victims of the Thai state”. Vichart’s previous film Cremation Ceremony (ประวัติย่อของบางสิ่งที่หายไป) used a similar technique, with captions honouring victims of political injustice.

The Thai monarchy is often associated with the sky, symbolising the high reverence in which it is traditionally held, and lèse-majesté is article 112 of the criminal code, hence the title 112 News from Heaven. The film’s captions feature 112 headlines from a 112-day period, detailing the custodial sentences given to those convicted of lèse-majesté and the bail denied to those awaiting trial.

After its litany of legal persecution, the film ends with a clip from an impromptu TV interview Rama X gave during a walkabout. Asked for his message to pro-democracy protesters, the King offers words of reassurance: “We love them all the same.”

The film’s structure recalls D.H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers. The bulk of that book describes the misery of the protagonist’s life, though it ends on an unexpectedly uplifting note: “He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.”

Can the book’s final few optimistic sentences negate the oppressive narrative of its previous 500 pages? Or does the apparently hopeful ending represent a false dawn? The same questions are raised by 112 News from Heaven, in relation to the state’s attitudes towards political dissent.

Again, there is a similarity with Cremation Ceremony. After detailing various state injustices, that film also ends on a positive note, with a final caption welcoming the news that pro-democracy parties “emerged victorious” in this year’s election. But after the film was released, it became clear that the election result was another false dawn, as the winning party was sidelined and the military remained in government.

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