17 September 2021

New Abnormal


In a series of static shots and long takes, Sorayos Prapapan’s satirical short film New Abnormal (ผิดปกติใหม่) takes aim at Prayut Chan-o-cha and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. In one sequence, a paramedic reveals the scale of the problem: “It’s already mid-2021, our country’s people is still only less than 10% vaccinated.” Sadly and shamefully, the statistic is accurate.

Another scene eavesdrops on a meeting between Prayut, deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, and a civil servant. When the bureaucrat asks about bailouts for businesses affected by the lockdown, an irritable Prayut barks back: “Why do you always hand me problems? It’s tiring enough acting as Prime Minister, you know!” Meanwhile, Prawit remains slumped in his chair, fast asleep (as is often the case in parliament). Prayut is played by Phayao Nimma, who also portrayed the PM in The Cave (นางนอน); in the credits, he’s described as “Stupid Prime minister who did coup” [sic].

The film ends with a recreation of an anti-government protest (on a small scale, given the low budget), which is dispersed by riot police with water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets (the latter heard but not seen). In the last shot, wisps of tear gas swirl slowly around a solitary rubber duck. The end-credits song is an anti-government anthem based on the Hamtaro (とっとこハム太郎) anime theme tune.

Sorayos’s equally satirical Prelude of the Moving Zoo premiered at ANIMAL KINgDOM last year, as did his documentary Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship. His parody Dossier of the Dossier (เอกสารประกอบการตัดสินใจ) was shown at the 30th Singapore International Film Festival, and his comedy Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport (ดาวอินดี้) played at the 18th Thai Short Film and Video Festival.

15 September 2021

Signes de Nuit


This week, Documentary Club is hosting Signes de Nuit, a festival of short films and documentaries. The event, now in its seventh year, will take place predominantly online due to the coronavirus pandemic, though some films will be shown at Doc Club and Pub in Bangkok.

Doc Club and Pub is the new venue for Documentary Club, after its previous collaborations with Warehouse 30, Lido Connect, and House Samyan. Documentary Club took over the space from Bangkok Screening Room, which sadly closed in March.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us will be shown at Doc Club and Pub on 19th and 20th September. Chaweng’s powerful film features an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand.

Please... See Us was also shown as part of Wildtype 2021 earlier this month. Signes de Nuit begins online today and runs for a week. (Films at Doc Club and Pub are currently screened on a large TV in the café/bar, as cinemas in Bangkok are still subject to the coronavirus lockdown.)

04 September 2021

Wildtype 2021


Wildtype 2021, a weekend of film screenings curated by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, takes place today and tomorrow on YouTube. The screenings will also be shown at Ar(t)cade, a venue at the Arcade Market in Phayao. Both days include Politix, a selection of short films commenting on Thai political events.

This evening’s Politix strand begins with Veerapong Soontornchattrawat’s Official Trailer (อนุสรณ์สถาน), which intercuts footage of the 6th October 1976 massacre with clips from Love Destiny (บุพเพสันนิวาส), a popular historical lakorn. This is followed by a film referencing another massacre: Nil Paksnavin’s Rajprasong (ราชประสงค์), which ends with a black screen and the jolting sound of eighty-seven gunshots, representing the victims of the 2010 military crackdown in downtown Bangkok. (Rajprasong was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another two-day film event programmed by Wiwat.)

The highlight of the evening is a more recent film, Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo, which begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. (It was previously shown at ANIMAL KINgDOM, also programmed by Wiwat; and it was selected for the 24th Short Film and Video Festival.)

Wildtype concludes tomorrow, and the second Politix strand includes Prap Boonpan’s The Bangkok Bourgeois Party (ความลักลั่นของงานรื่นเริง), in which a group of yellow-shirted Bangkokians murder a man merely because he disagrees with their ideology. Less than a year after it was first shown, this dystopian satire became a reality when Narongsak Krobtaisong was beaten to death by PAD guards in 2008.

Chaweng Chaiyawan’s Please... See Us, which highlights the displacement of ethnic minorities, will also be shown tomorrow. This new film includes an extended sequence in which a pig is killed and dismembered, the helpless animal being a metaphor for the plight of ethnic minorities in Thailand. It will also be shown later this month as part of Signes de Nuit, hosted by Documentary Club.

01 September 2021

Snap


In Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s Snap, released in 2015, a high school reunion rekindles an old romance, and the film trades heavily on Millennial nostalgia, though—as in Kongdej’s other films—there is also a political undercurrent in the background. News of the 2014 coup is mediated through newspapers (a man reading the Bangkok Post, with a headline about martial law) and television (the female lead doing her ironing while the coup announcement is broadcast). Likewise, Kongdej’s Sayew (สยิว) begins with a radio news report on the ‘Black May’ massacre, and his Tang Wong (ตั้งวง) is punctuated by TV news updates on the red-shirt protests, making him one of the few mainstream genre directors whose films address Thailand’s political crises.

24 July 2021

100 Greatest Films


100 Greatest Films

100 greatest films, in chronological order:
  • A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  • The Great Train Robbery (1903)
  • The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919)
  • Nosferatu (1922)
  • Nanook of the North (1922)
  • Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  • Metropolis (1927)
  • The Jazz Singer (1927)
  • Un chien andalou (1928)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • City Lights (1931)
  • The Public Enemy (1931)
  • Scarface (1932)
  • 42nd Street (1933)
  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • Grand Illusion (1935)
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • Port of Shadows (1938)
  • Bringing up Baby (1938)
  • Gone with the Wind (1939)
  • The Rules of the Game (1939)
  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • Le jour se lève (1939)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Cat People (1942)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • Rome, Open City (1945)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • Notorious (1946)
  • Out of the Past (1947)
  • The Lady from Shanghai (1947)
  • Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  • Red River (1948)
  • Rashomon (1950)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
  • Ikiru (1952)
  • Tokyo Story (1953)
  • On the Waterfront (1954)
  • Seven Samurai (1954)
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
  • Pather Panchali (1955)
  • Les diaboliques (1955)
  • The Searchers (1956)
  • The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
  • Vertigo (1958)
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Look Back in Anger (1959)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • The 400 Blows (1959)
  • Breathless (1960)
  • Psycho (1960)
  • Night and Fog in Japan (1960)
  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
  • Chronique d’un été (1961)
  • (1963)
  • Dr Strangelove (1964)
  • A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
  • Black God, White Devil (1964)
  • Closely Observed Trains (1966)
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
  • Yesterday Girl (1966)
  • The Fireman’s Ball (1967)
  • The Graduate (1967)
  • Dont Look Back (1967)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Bonnie and Clyde (1968)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • Pink Flamingos (1972)
  • The Godfather (1972)
  • Chinatown (1974)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Raging Bull (1980)
  • Yellow Earth (1984)
  • A Better Tomorrow (1986)
  • A City of Sadness (1989)
  • GoodFellas (1990)
  • A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
  • Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
  • Farewell My Concubine (1993)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • La haine (1995)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Taste of Cherry (1997)
  • Memento (2000)
  • Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)
  • Spirited Away (2001)
  • City of God (2002)
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

20 July 2021

The Seventh Seal (blu-ray)


Det Sjunde Inseglet Sjunde Inseglet

Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) was released on blu-ray and DVD in 2007 by Tartan in the UK, to mark the film’s fiftieth anniversary. Other blu-ray and DVD releases followed over the next decade, from Criterion in the US, Studio Canal in France, and Arthaus in Germany.

Unlike all previous VHS and DVD editions, each of these discs has an altered version of the film’s opening title sequence: the first word, “DET” (‘the’) is missing, and the rest of the title (“SJUNDE INSEGLET”—‘seventh seal’) appears off-centre. This anomaly was corrected by Criterion for their Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema blu-ray collection, which featured a 2018 4k restoration of The Seventh Seal that restored the definite article to the title sequence.

16 July 2021

The Short Story of Film


The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Movements and Techniques, by Ian Haydn Smith, was published last year. As its subtitle suggests, it’s divided into four parts, though the ‘key films’ section occupies the bulk of the book. Fifty films are included (one per director), the selection is international in scope, and each film has a decent one-page review.

The one-page-per-entry format also applies to the other sections, and while a single page is sufficient to summarise an individual film, it’s not really enough to cover entire genres or movements. Consequently, these potted histories are sometimes quite general, and often have better coverage of a genre or movement’s origins than its subsequent evolution. The book features an impressively diverse range of subgenres, and these are summarised in more detail than the major genres.

Other lists of fifty greatest films have also been compiled by Vanity Fair, The Spectator, MovieMail, Film4 (and Dateline Bangkok). Ian Haydn Smith updated 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die for its tenth anniversary, and has edited each subsequent edition (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

PDF

01 June 2021

Democracy.exe

Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them
Democracy.exe
White Bird
Aomtip Kerdplanant
The Untitled for Film group held a screening of short films on 29th May, providing a platform for young, independent directors to respond to seven years of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. The event, Democracy.exe, was originally to form part of the Untitled for Us / Untitled for Them season at the RDX Offsite gallery in Bangkok. The season was scheduled to run from 3rd April to 24th May, with the Democracy.exe films to be shown from 2nd to 8th May, though the screening ultimately took place online (streamed via Facebook Live) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The programme began with Panya Zhu’s White Bird, in which an origami bird (representing a dove of peace?) is seen at various locations around Bangkok, including Ratchaprasong, the 14th October 1973 Memorial, Democracy Monument, and Thammasat University. These are all sites with histories of political violence and are thus, to use Dutch painter Armando’s term, ‘guilty landscapes’. (Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s short film Planking and Pachara Piyasongsoot’s painting What a Wonderful World feature similarly ‘guilty landscapes’, silent witnesses to past traumas.) Prayut’s announcement of his coup is heard on the soundtrack, and the film ends with the lowering of the Thai flag, symbolising the country’s political regression.

Democracy.exe also featured four short documentaries by Ratakorn Sirileark, filmed at anti-government protests last year. 21 October 2020: The Event Nearby the Government House and 8 November 2020: The Unintentional Mistake (8 November 2020: มือลั่น) were, like the others in the series, filmed in black-and-white. In 17 November 2020: Tear Gas and Water Canon [sic], Ratakorn documents the grossly disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon by riot police, with Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. (This is also the subject of Sorayos Prapapan’s short film Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship.) The title of Ratakorn’s 26 October 2020: The Owner of the Mutt is a reference to King Rama X, who has a pet poodle. (Ratakorn has also edited these films together into a single work, with the ironic title The Glamour of Righteous Oppression.)

The final film in the programme was Aomtip Kerdplanant’s 16 ตุลา (‘16 Oct.’), a drama in which three student protest leaders debate their tactics in the aftermath of the 2014 coup: should they apply for a protest permit, or not?; should they organise a flashmob, or a large-scale rally? The three students could, of course, be substitutes for Arnon Nampa (released on bail today), Panusaya Sithjirawattanakul, and Parit Chirawak; they also resemble the protagonists of Sunisa Manning’s novel A Good True Thai.

16 ตุลา shows how the students’ lives have changed in the years since their initial campaign, indicating how seasoned protesters can become disillusioned, and how Prayut has become entrenched in Thai politics. The title is a conflation of two massacres, on 14th October 1973 and 6th October 1976, which have been whitewashed to such an extent that many people believe they are synonymous. The film ends with a written caption endorsing the three demands of the real-life student protest movement: Prayut’s resignation, a democratic constitution, and reform of the monarchy.

06 May 2021

Reside

Reside
Following The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) and Senior (รุ่นพี่), Reside (สิงสู่) is director Wisit Sasanatieng’s third ghost film. It also sees Wisit reunited with Ananda Everingham, who previously starred in The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง). (Reside was released in 2018, and its international title is The Summoning. This month’s planned Wisit retrospective at the Thai Film Archive has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Reside begins with an archetypal horror scenario: a small group stuck in an isolated house. Ananda’s character spells out the inevitable: “The road downhill has been cut by flash floods. We’ll be stranded here for a while.” This Old Dark House cliché is acknowledged self-referentially by another member of the group, who complains that “the lights go out every time it rains. Like in a horror film.”

For most of the running time, the characters are possessed one-by-one by spirits summonsed during a seance (one of whom transforms into a malevolent tree!). This leads to other intentional horror references, including several inevitable nods to The Exorcist, with possession resulting in spider-walking and projectile vomiting. The spirits seem relatively easy to exorcise, though, and they’re not particularly scary. The twist ending isn’t especially surprising, either.

30 April 2021

The Film Book

The Film Book
The second edition of Ronald Bergan’s The Film Book was published last month, ten years after the first edition, with a slightly tweaked subtitle (A Complete Guide to the World of Movies). The earlier edition included a list of 100 essential films (which first appeared in Bergan’s book Film), and the new edition adds an additional eight recent films to the list.

The extra titles in the “Must-See Movies” list are There Will Be Blood, White Material, Inception, Twelve Years a Slave, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Black Panther, and Parasite (기생충). Bergan also wrote Understanding Cinema and co-wrote 501 Must-See Movies (which has been updated in second, third, fourth, and fifth editions).

Wisit Sasanatieng

Tears of the Black Tiger
Citizen Dog
The Red Eagle
Senior
The Unseeable
Reside
Nang Nak
Slice
Next month, the Thai Film Archive at Salaya has programmed a complete retrospective of films directed by Wisit Sasanatieng. (The Archive held a mini Wisit retrospective in 2010.) The season begins in style with 35mm screenings of Wisit’s classic Tears of the Black Tiger (ฟ้าทะลายโจร), tentatively scheduled for 4th and 16th May. The other planned screenings in May are as follows: Citizen Dog (หมานคร) on 16th and 25th, The Red Eagle (อินทรีแดง) on 11th and 19th, Senior (รุ่นพี่) on 21st and 30th, The Unseeable (เปนชู้กับผี) on 20th and 26th, and Reside (สิงสู่) on 22nd and 27th.

Two films written by Wisit will also be shown in the month-long season: Nang Nak (นางนาก) on 11th and 22nd, and Slice (เฉือน) on 14th and 30th. Wisit also wrote the screenplay for Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters [sic] (2499 อันธพาลครองเมือง), though it’s not included in the retrospective as it was screened at the Archive only a few months ago. All screenings are free, though the schedule will be delayed, as cinemas and other entertainment venues are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thai Film Archive

Rashomon
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
The June screening schedule at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya includes two masterpieces, released sixty years apart. Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (羅生門) was originally scheduled to be shown in 16mm on 13th and 30th June. Screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ) were planned for 12th and 24th June. All screenings are free, though the dates will be delayed as all entertainment venues are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

07 April 2021

Come and See

Come and See
After Nottapon Boonprakob submitted his documentary Come and See (เอหิปัสสิโก) to the Thai censorship board, they phoned him and explained that some board members had reservations about it. Would he mind if they rejected the film, they asked. Naturally, he did mind, so they invited him to a meeting. After the phone call, the Thai Film Director Association publicised the case online, and the stage was set for another Thai film censorship controversy. However, when Nottapon met the censors on 10th March, they told him that there was no problem, and the film was passed uncut with a universal ‘G’ rating.

It’s likely that the censors capitulated as a result of the publicity generated by their rather naïve phone call. The earlier case of Nontawat Numbenchapol’s Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง) was very similar: that film’s ban was swiftly reversed following online publicity about it. (Nontawat’s film was subject to a token cut, imposed to save the face of the censorship board who had originally banned it.)

Come and See and Boundary are both documentaries about controversial temples. In Boundary’s case, the controversy was territorial, with Thailand and Cambodia both claiming ownership of the disputed Preah Vihear on the border between the two countries. Come and See, on the other hand, examines the cult-like practices of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple complex (in Pathum Thani province, near Bangkok) and its former abbot, Dhammajayo, who has long been suspected of money laundering.

Dhammakaya is a Buddhist sect recognised by the Sangha Supreme Council, though it closely resembles a cult. Dhammakaya supporters are encouraged to make large financial donations in return for their salvation, and thousands of followers have given their savings to the temple. (Come and See interviews both current devotees and disaffected former members.) After Dhammajayo was accused of corruption, a declaration of his innocence was added to the temple’s morning prayers. (The film shows temple visitors reciting this like a mantra.)

The Dhammakaya complex itself is only twenty years old, and its design is inherently cinematic. The enormous Cetiya temple resembles a golden UFO, and temple ceremonies are conducted on an epic scale, with tens of thousands of monks and worshippers arranged with geometric precision. The temple cooperated with Nottapon, though his access was limited. Come and See doesn’t investigate the allegations against Dhammajayo, though it does provide extensive coverage of the 2016 DSI raid on the temple and Dhammajayo’s subsequent disappearance.

One of the film’s interviewees, a Buddhist scholar, hits the nail on the head when he argues that the long-running Dhammakaya scandal is not an anomaly; rather, Dhammakaya is simply a more extreme version of contemporary Thai Buddhism, which has become increasingly capitalist. Come and See also hints at the institutional corruption and hidden networks of influence that characterise the modern Thai state.

24 February 2021

Bangkok Screening Room

Bangkok Screening Room
The Third Man
Bangkok Screening Room, the boutique independent cinema, will be closing at the end of next month. Like other entertainment venues in Bangkok and elsewhere, BKKSR has borne the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. All cinemas in Bangkok were closed in April and May last year, during the country’s first coronavirus lockdown, and since reopening they have been operating at limited capacity to maintain social distancing.

BKKSR opened in 2016, and quickly established itself as the city’s leading arthouse cinema. It offered a unique Hollywood and world cinema repertory programme, plus screenings of contemporary Thai indie films, and revivals of Thai classics. The BKKSR team also curated seasons dedicated to marginalised filmmakers, including an LGBT+ Film Festival, a Global Migration Film Festival, and a Fem Film Festival.

BKKSR’s inaugural screening was The Third Man, starring Orson Welles, and fittingly this classic film noir will also be the last film screened there, on 31st March. (It will also be shown on 19th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, and 28th March.) BKKSR is the second Bangkok cinema to close as a result of the pandemic, after the Scala shut its doors last year. (Also, Cinema Oasis has been closed indefinitely since last March.)

23 February 2021

Cinema Lecture

Vertigo
Persona
In March and April, the Thai Film Archive will show a range of classic films introduced by academics and film critics. The Cinema Lecture season includes Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on 3rd April and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona on 24th April. The screenings are free of charge.

Vertigo, voted the greatest film ever made in the 2012 Sight and Sound poll, has previously been shown at Bangkok Screening room in 2016 and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. Persona was screened twice in 2014, at Thammasat University and Jam Café.

23 January 2021

Irréversible (DVD)

Irreversible
Irreversible
Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible is notorious for its real-time rape sequence, its brutal (CGI) fire extinguisher murder scene, and its reverse-chronology narrative structure (though the latter was heavily influenced by Memento). Irréversible (like most of Noé’s films) is sexually explicit and intentionally confrontational; to see it on its theatrical release in 2002, I had to drive to a cinema thirty miles away (as local cinemas wouldn’t screen it) and read a notice warning viewers that it contained disturbing images.

Last year, Noé recut the film, putting it into conventional chronological order. This new version was released on DVD and blu-ray in France and Germany by Studio Canal in 2020, and will be available on blu-ray in the UK from Indicator later this year.

The recut version is actually shorter than the original, losing almost ten minutes of footage, notably from the S&M club sequence: explicit shots of sexual activity both outside and inside the club have been removed. Another change occurs after the end credits: the caption “LE TEMPS DETRUIT TOUT” (‘time destroys everything’) has been replaced by a new, more optimistic maxim: “LE TEMPS RÉVÈLE TOUT” (‘time reveals everything’).

28 December 2020

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
The Technicolor musical The Wizard of Oz wasn’t originally considered a Christmas film, though for generations of British children it’s become an annual Christmas TV tradition. Its first UK television broadcast was on Christmas Day in 1975, and it’s been shown during the Christmas holiday almost every year since. It’s fitting, then, that Bangkok Screening Room will be showing The Wizard of Oz just after New Year, on 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 16th, and 17th January 2021.

The film has been shown at Bangkok Screening Room before, last year (as part of the Judy Garland Focus season) and in 2018. It also played during this year’s World Class Cinema (ทึ่ง! หนังโลก) season at the Scala, and at Cinema Winehouse in 2018. There was a sing-along screening at the Bangkok Community Theatre in 2013, and later that year it was shown as part of Jam Café’s Dark Side of the Rainbow double-bill accompanied by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.

12 December 2020

ANIMAL KINgDOM

Animal Kingdom
A House in Many Parts
Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship
Shadow and Act
Prelude of the Moving Zoo
A House in Many Parts (บ้านเเหวกศิลป์), the arts festival being held at various Bangkok venues from 1st to 16th December, continued yesterday at N22 with ANIMAL KINgDOM, a selection of short films programmed by Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa. The outdoor screening was divided into two sections: ANIMAL and KINgDOM (the lower-case ‘g’ indicates a double meaning: human kinship with animals, and the kingdom of Thailand).

The ANIMAL programme included two new films: Taiki Sakpisit’s Shadow and Act and Sorayos Prapapan’s Prelude of the Moving Zoo. Both feature sequences shot at Dusit Zoo, which was closed by royal decree in 2018. (The zoo was situated on Crown Property Bureau land, which King Rama X reclaimed.)

Prelude of the Moving Zoo, filmed on the last day of the zoo’s operation, begins subversively with a cylinder recording of the royal anthem, accompanied by footage of penguins seemingly standing to attention. Shadow and Act also includes shots filmed at another prestigious institution from a bygone age, the Chaya Jitrakorn photography studio. As in A Ripe Volcano (ภูเขาไฟพิโรธ), Taiki’s camera pans slowly and elegiacally around the studio’s fixtures and fittings, settling upon dusty portraits of Cold War dictator Phibun Songkhram and other kharatchakan (‘civil servants’).

The KINgDOM segment included Ukrit Sa-nguanhai’s The Pob’s House (บ้านผีปอบ), which was previously shown at Histoire(s) du thai cinéma, another film programme curated by Wiwat. In The Pob’s House, an elderly woman is attacked by villagers who believe her to be an evil spirit. Her granddaughter is also killed, and the child’s body is beaten in an echo of the mob violence of 6th October 1976. A little boy turns to the camera and grins, in reference to the smiling boy from Neal Ulevich’s famous 6th October photograph. The Pob’s House was made in response to another massacre, in 2010, and as Ukrit explains in a voiceover, his film is an allegory for the violence “buried in people’s minds.”

The evening ended with Yellow Duck Against Dictatorship, another new film by Sorayos, compiled from raw footage of riot police firing water cannon at protesters outside parliament on 17th November. The protesters used inflatable rubber ducks to protect themselves from jets of water laced with tear gas, and Sorayos was on the front line with the protesters, whereas most news camera crews were behind the barricades.

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.”

17 November 2020

Insects in the Backyard

Insects in the Backyard
Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s film Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด) is showing at Lido Connect in Bangkok on 19th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th November. The 21st November screening will include หลังพรมภาพยนตร์ (‘behind the red carpet’), a talk by the director on fundraising for independent filmmakers.

Director Tanwarin, Thailand’s first transgender MP, was dismissed from parliament last month, accused of owning undeclared media shares. She won her seat at the 2019 election as a member of Future Forward, though the party was dissolved earlier this year. (It is now known as Move Forward.)

Insects in the Backyard premiered at the World Film Festival of Bangkok in 2010, though requests for a general theatrical release were denied, making it the first film formally banned under the Film and Video Act of 2008. When the censors vetoed a screening at the Thai Film Archive in 2010, Tanwarin cremated a DVD of the film, in a symbolic funeral. (The ashes are kept in an urn at the Thai Film Museum.) Tanwarin appealed to the National Film Board, which upheld the ban, so she sued the censors in the Administrative Court.

As Tanwarin told me in an interview for my book Thai Cinema Uncensored, the censors condemned the entire film: “When we asked the committee who considered the film which scenes constituted immorality, they simply said that they thought every scene is immoral”. When she appealed to the Film Board, their reaction was equally dismissive: “we were told by one of the committee members that we should have made the film in a ‘good’ way. This was said as if we did not know how to produce a good movie, and no clear explanation was given.”

On Christmas Day 2015, the Administrative Court ruled that the film could be released if a single shot was removed. (The three-second shot shows a clip from a gay porn video.) Although the film was censored, the verdict represented a victory of sorts, as the Court rejected the censors’ view that Insects in the Backyard was immoral. As Tanwarin told me: “The Court’s verdict was that there are no immoral scenes in the film as it’s a film focussing on problems in Thai society.”

After the Administrative Court’s ruling, Insects in the Backyard was shown at Bangkok’s House Rama cinema in 2017. In 2018, it was screened at Bangkok Screening Room, Sunandha Rajabhat University, and ChangChui in Bangkok. It was shown at the Thai Film Archive in 2018 and 2020.