Doi Saket Film Festival starts Saturday!
Chiang Mai movies beginning Thursday, October 21, 2010
… through Wednesday, October 27
by Thomas Ohlson
Best Bets: The American. The Owls of Ga'Hoole.
To avoid like the plague: Grown Ups.
at the Film Festival
This is Issue Number 51 of Volume 5 of these listings, almost at the end of our fifth full year. Back issues are available on the blog.
EU Film Festival in Bangkok: Oct 21 to 31.
1st Doi Saket International Film Festival: Oct 23 to 30. Much info now available: http://dsiff.tumblr.com/films
EU Film Festival in Chiang Mai: Nov 5 to 14. On the grounds of the “140-years Old Lanna Ancient House” on Charoen Prathet Road, between the Chedi Hotel and the small Iron Bridge. Open air, free.
World Film Festival in Bangkok: Nov 5 to 14.
Bangkok International Film Festival: Nov 19 to 29.
Luang Prabang Film Festival in Luang Prabang: Dec 4 to 11. Open air, free, 30 films. www.lpfilmfest.org
The Doi Saket International Film Festival begins Saturday in various locations in the Chiang Mai - Doi Saket areas, running until October 30. Some information later on in this newsletter, more in a separate distribution, more on my blog, more at their website, http://dsiff.tumblr.com/films. And here’s the take of Bangkok film journalist Wise Kwai:
Wise Kwai: More than 100 shorts and features from around 20 countries will be screened in the 1st Doi Saket International Film Festival, set for October 23 to 30 in various locations around Chiang Mai's Doi Saket District and Chiang Mai city.
Among the highlights is Nok Ka Mhin (Four Seasons), the short by Chaisiri Jiwarangsan that premiered earlier this year at the Venice festival. It'll also be playing in next month's World Film Festival of Bangkok.
Special programs include Anocha Suwichakornpong's award-winning social drama Mundane History (Jao Nok Krajok), a retrospective on director Supamok Silarak (maker of the migrant-worker drama Colors of Our Hearts) and CalArts Shorts: Portrait Documentaries from a Woman's Perspective, which screened at last year's World Film Festival of Bangkok.
Other interesting films are Pan Fah by veteran cult short-film director Hamer Salvala, a trio of shorts from Malaysia's Edmund Yeo – Love Suicides, Kingyo and The White Flower, Monkey Love by Royston Tan and Supergirl, directed by Juliette Sales and Fabien Suarez from France.
Wat Doi Saket, high up on a mountain in rural Chiang Mai Province, is one of the venues for the film festival, including the Saturday opening ceremony at 5.
Now playing in Chiang Mai * = new this week
* My Best Bodyguard / แฟนใหม่: Thai, Action/ Thriller – Starring the Princess Ubolratana as a dedicated reporter fighting a villainous pharmacy organization that secretly runs an experiment involving a deadly virus which can kill a whole city. Shahkrit Yamnarm is a gunman who's protecting her.
* Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2D): US/ Australia, Action/ Comedy/ Family – 1 hr 22 mins – The age-old battle between cats and dogs, in live-action with animated mouths that spout talk that’s meant to be cute, in 3D in most places but not here. Generally unfavorable reviews: 30/36 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Dull and unfunny, this inexplicable sequel offers little more than the spectacle of digitally rendered talking animals with celebrity voices.
* Devil: US, Horror/ Mystery/ Thriller – 1 hr 20 mins – A group of people trapped in an elevator realize that the devil is among them. Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, which the directors and crew are desperately trying to live down, being that his name, post-Airbender, is as welcome as the devil himself. Mixed or average reviews: 44/44 out of 100. At Vista only.
ReelViews, James Berardinelli: Devil will do little to dispel the growing belief that Shyamalan is a one-trick pony whose horse has keeled over. The laughter during the trailer was sadly prescient; the film is a joke.
Chicago Reader, Ben Sachs: The great cinematographer Tak Fujimoto has the time of his life on this low-budget horror feature, playing with dolly shots, abrupt zooms, and negative space inside the widescreen frame, and the fun is infectious.
The New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis: A serviceable burst of high-end hokum, Devil classes up a flimsy, religion-themed plot (by M. Night Shyamalan) with the kind of limber cinematography only someone like Tak Fujimoto can deliver.
Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore: Devil is the sort of story Rod Serling would have taken for a spin in "The Twilight Zone," back in the day. Shyamalan came up with the idea, produced it and got others to script and direct this 76 minute exercise in movie minimalism.
The American: US, Drama/ Suspense/ Crime – 1 hr 45 mins – I’m taken aback that this fascinating film showed up here, much more that it’s into its second week – it’s way too offbeat for Chiang Mai, I should think! It’s excellent, so take your opportunity and go. But don’t go expecting your usual thriller. It’s just the opposite. There’s little action, despite what you might be led to believe. This is a slow and moody introspection – a musing on what is happening in the mind of this assassin, played by George Clooney. It’s more a foreign art-house film rather than a Hollywood thriller. You will probably have to see it at least two times to understand what is going on and it begins to make sense. Rotten Tomatoes describes the film as “divisive,” which I thought was strange, but thinking about it, that’s right on. It divides an audience. Some will love it, some will find it boring. I find it slow but fascinating. I have a different objection to it entirely. I simply don’t approve of movies that glorify the mechanics of killing as this one does. I don’t think it’s good, for me or for society. It makes the act of killing glamorous and appealing, and a killer someone to emulate. That’s my personal bias.
And the better the film, the more it disturbs me, and this film is near perfection, so it disturbs my sense of what’s right very deeply indeed. It’s superbly directed by the Dutch Anton Corbijn. The photography is gorgeous, the acting mesmerizing, and the puzzles intriguing. If you have ever enjoyed the Japanese warrior masterpieces, don’t miss this one.
In English and some Italian. Rated R in the US for violence, sexual content, and nudity; 18+ in Thailand. At Vista only, and with thanks to them for bringing such an interesting and non-mainstream film to Chiang Mai. Generally favorable reviews: 61/65 out of 100.
A “Z” composition
The director, Anton Corbijn, is an accomplished and very popular still photographer, and his skill shows. I’m printing again a still picture I had last week, because I want you to take a moment and really look at the superb composition of the picture. Note the strong “Z”-shaped diagonals running from top left to middle right to middle left to bottom right. With the bottommost diagonal splitting into two as it goes from left to right by the inclusion of the shadow. Such beautiful lighting; the composition so interestingly broken by the figures, which are off-center. Just amazingly beautiful as a still photograph.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: As beautifully shot as it is emotionally restrained, The American is an unusually divisive spy thriller -- and one that rests on an unusually subdued performance from George Clooney.
There are many examples of this divisiveness on the IMDb boards where people write in their reactions. Here is one pair of opposite reactions:
This movie is incredibly slow. Nothing happens, and when it does, you're mad because it was such a letdown. It’s all arty and Euro or whatever because it has a lot of pretty people looking brooding and dark. There is a ton of dumb crap that doesn't make sense.
What if there was an explanation for all of these unrealistic and odd happenings?
It almost felt to me that Mr. Butterfly was in Hell and doomed for eternity to repeat an existence where he is tormented by paranoia, loneliness, and regret and just when he thinks he's found love and hope, it's over. So it was in the beginning of the film, and so it was at the end.
To a certain extent films like this shouldn't be viewed as depicting a chronicle of events but more like bearing witness to someone's nightmare.
In fact I just saw the thread that asked if anyone else found any similarities to "In Bruges" which was a retelling of Dante's Inferno.
Roger Ebert: The American allows George Clooney to play a man as starkly defined as a samurai. His fatal flaw, as it must be for any samurai, is love. Other than that, the American is perfect: Sealed, impervious and expert, with a focus so narrow it is defined only by his skills and his master. Here is a gripping film with the focus of a Japanese drama, an impenetrable character to equal Alain Delon's in "Le Samourai," by Jean-Pierre Melville. ...
The director is a Dutchman named Anton Corbijn, known to me for Control (2007), the story of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, a suicide at 23. Corbin has otherwise made mostly music videos. Here he paints an idyllic Italian countryside as lyrical as his dialogue is taciturn. There is not a wrong shot. Every performance is tightly controlled.
Slate, Dana Stevens: If you're willing to let go of your Hollywood-bred expectations for a movie of this type-spectacular action set pieces, constant pulse-pounding music, a killing every 15 minutes-The American is a great pleasure to watch, an astringent antidote to the loud, frantic action movies that have been clogging our veins all summer.
RED: US, Action/ Comedy – 1 hr 51 mins – Oh, well, this is a delight! I had more fun at this one than any movie in some time. It even made you muse over a few things as you sped along, but not too much and not too deeply. Mostly it’s just glorious nonsense, with actors that you have come to love to watch, doing their stuff. Just terrific fun. When his idyllic life is threatened by a high-tech assassin, a former black-ops agent (Bruce Willis) reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive. “RED,” by the way, stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.” Starring Bruce Willis, and with Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, and Mary-Louise Parker. Great cast! “Frank, Joe, Marvin, and Victoria used to be the CIA's top agents - but the secrets they know just made them the Agency's top targets. Now targeted for assassination, they must use all of their collective cunning, experience, and teamwork to stay one step ahead of their deadly pursuers and stay alive. To stop the operation, the team embarks on an impossible, cross-country mission to break into the top-secret CIA headquarters, where they will uncover one of the biggest conspiracies and cover-up in government history.” (Studio blurb) Rated 18+ in Thailand. Mixed or average reviews: 60/61 out of 100. At Airport Plaza only.
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: Based on the cult D.C. Comics graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, RED is an explosive action-comedy starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (3D): US/ Australia, Animation/ Adventure/ Fantasy – 1 hr 30 mins – The animation is superb! I’ve been a fan of animation since I was a kid visiting the Walt Disney Studios near my boyhood home, and I think Walt would be thrilled by the animation here: the textures of the feathers, the motions of the owls, and particularly the expressiveness of the faces and the life in the eyes. I think he would also be pleased by the terror in the film - true terror! - which matches some of the frightening scenes of the witch in Snow White, and the death of Bambi’s mother. There are truly some nightmare-inducing scenes. And the scenes of flight are giddy with exuberance and excitement.
This beautifully wrought film has gotten wide-ranging applause and accolades from many quarters for its cutting-edge animation, its inventively superb use of 3D, and the brilliant vocal work done by the star actors providing the voices. It’s about a young barn owl who is kidnapped by the owls of St. Aggie's, ostensibly an orphanage, but actually where owlets are brainwashed into becoming soldiers. Our hero escapes to the island of Ga'Hoole, to help its noble owls fight the army being created by the wicked rulers of St. Aggie's. Shown only at Airport Plaza, and in both a 3D and a 2D version. Note that the 2D version is Thai-dubbed only (meaning that you lose completely the carefully crafted voice-work), and with no English subtitles. Also, please take note: the 3D is real 3D, and is a true step forward in the art. If you at all appreciate animation, don’t miss it! Mixed or average reviews: 52/55 out of 100.
The story is good, but mammothly complicated and confusing, based on a series of young-adult books by Cambridge author Kathryn Lasky which would seem to be required reading for even minimal understanding. This may be the beginning of a series, but they should have gone more slowly with the plot elements in this first one, in my opinion. It is a remarkably detailed world the owls inhabit, full of its own culture and ways of doing things, and it takes a bit of getting use to. It doesn’t really portray life as a particularly pleasant pastime for the most part; pretty ugly, in fact. But it all throws the value of life into high relief as a result.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Legend of the Guardians' dark tone and dazzling visuals are to be admired, even if they're ultimately let down by a story that never lives up to its full potential.
The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Farber: This picture sometimes rivals Avatar in its spectacular landscapes and thrilling flying sequences, but of course it won't come anywhere near those megagrosses, and it's too scary to be wholeheartedly embraced by children.
Red Eagle / In See Dang / อินทรีแดง: Thai, Action/ Thriller – 2 hrs 15 mins – Ananda Everingham is really terrific as the red-masked crusader in this re-launch of an action franchise from the 1950s and '60s that starred the legendary leading man Mitr Chai
bancha. Set in 2016, the story shows Bangkok as a city threatened by crime, corruption, and a deadly nuclear project that is about to be built. In the midst of the dismay, a mysterious hero called Red Eagle steps forward to eliminate the evildoers. But he has to face his dangerous enemy Dark Devil, the elite killer hired to hunt him. Rated 18+ in Thailand.
There are flashes of director Wisit Sasanatieng’s trademark wild use of color and his antic imagination, but subservient here to the demands of a comic book masked crusader much along the lines of Batman. The film, really, is a sort of Thai Dark Knight. I have to say that the film is horrifically bloody, too much so for my taste. But I have to admit I liked the stylistic touch of having some of the crunching body blows show the actual crunching inside the body, thanks to X-ray photography. We can see bones snap, necks broken. Nice touch!
For the whole, Wisit was mostly having fun and I found his enjoyment infectious. There’s a lot of imagination at work, in a wild and impossible comic book style.
A Nutshell Review, Stefan S.: This is possibly writer-director Wisit Sasanatieng's most ambitious project yet, in terms of its blunt critique on corrupt politics and politicians, wide ranging action sequences that shocked and awed, and a sprawling narrative that couldn't be contained in a single film. This of course paves way for subsequent stories to be told by filmmakers – not necessarily himself: he had announced that he's quitting commercial filmmaking for more indie fare - but I just can't see how anyone can take his place. ...
Although written and developed for many years by Wisit Sasanatieng, one cannot escape from drawing parallels between the political arena in the film, and that in real life.
Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps: US, Drama – 2 hrs 13 mins – This film makes a return visit, this time at Vista, and there are good reasons to see it. There are some really good turns by a number of people: Michael Douglas, Eli Wallach, Frank Langella, Josh Brolin. Some of these scenes are well-done with a lot of intensity in the execution. But without much point or purpose, for me. Oliver Stone seems to visit many of the events of the financial crisis without explaining what's really going on. I think if you were very familiar with the events, you could bring your already-formed feelings to bear on the scenes you witness, but without being so primed, it really makes no sense. Everyone is very intense and angry and confrontational about something, but what about is not explained. They might give the excuse that the issues and the manipulations are way too complicated to explain to the populace in a popular movie, but I don't think that's true. Hard work, and requires thought, but very possible. Mixed or average reviews: 59/60 out of 100. At Vista only.
Rotten Tomatoes: It's more entertaining than many sequels, but with Oliver Stone directing, a terrific cast, and a timely storyline that picks up where the original left off, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps should be better.
E Hed Sod Pa Ded Suek / อีเห็ดสดเผด็จศึก: Thai, Comedy – Outrageous Thai comedy routines involving a bride who happens to have a penis, and is shown in the trailers raping her bridegroom by riding roughshod over his sensibilities with her inflamed member. Just the usual Thai hijinks. The studio describes the plot thus: “Captain Muengman who suffers from losing his virginity to his ladyboy bride is assigned to do a challenging mission. When the unusual ladyboy terrorists are rising, Captain Muengman is chosen to defeat them. To complete the mission Captain Muengman and his team have to disguise themselves as one of the ladyboys in order to trick Golden Flower, the ladyboy leader of the terrorists who has painful memories about guys.” That should clear it all up. It’s noisy trash, to be blunt. Rated 18+ in Thailand.
Grown Ups: US, Comedy – 1 hr 42 mins – Still? Really? What is the world coming to! Is this really necessary? At both cinemas? Remember, this has my new film rating: 25-. “25 minus.” Means that people over 25 will not be admitted - because for adults, life is too short to waste on crap like this!
This is a comedy, or so it wishes, starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade, about five friends and former teammates who reunite years later to honor the passing of their childhood basketball coach. I can’t imagine why anyone would deliberately want to see this picture. It’s ugly, full of ugly Americans, living ugly lives, tearing each other down in typically American ways. It thus re-emphasizes why one prefers to live in Thailand. I find no real humor in it at all. But, it’s up to you. Apparently, there are some people who actually like the humor of Adam Sandler. Generally unfavorable reviews: 30/33 out of 100.
News of the World, Robbie Collin: It is, literally, no laughing matter.
Scheduled for October 28
Fan Mai / แฟนใหม่: Thai, Action/ Thriller –- Really lots of rain and blood. A girl calls it off with her boyfriend when she finds he’s been seeing someone else – who’s dead. Looks kind of intriguing as well as spooky.
Jackass 3D: US, Documentary/ Action/ Comedy – 1 hr 34 mins – The “Jackass” phenomenon started out as a long series on MTV. Then came the first film Jackass: the Movie in 2002, essentially an extended TV episode, shot on crummy-looking digital video. In 2006 came Jackass Number Two, and now finally the definitive 3D version. This group of nuts has had a long 10-year-run with their brand of performance art, and I missed it all, having left the US before they started doing their what-ever-it-is performances. It consists of gross compilations of gags and guffaws, likely to make you sick. But they say it’s also rather funny, it you’re into frat house humor. Rated R in the US for male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, and for language. Or as the New York Times says: “Clothed, semi-naked, and naked adult men, all apparently stuck in what Freud termed the anal, oral, and phallic stages of development.” Early reviews: Mixed or average: 60 out of 100.
IMDb viewer: While mostly appeals to the frat style young adult male, some others may like it if they enjoy physical comedy. One word of suggestion, do not eat before seeing this movie!
Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore: This fixation on feces isn’t juvenile. It’s infantile, puerile, and gag-inducing. Cast members and a cameraman lose their lunch in this one, not exactly comic pay dirt.
NYC Movie Guru, Avi Offer: If you’re not a fan of Jackass by now, chances are that you’ll find this third installment to be painfully unfunny and boring. It’s one of those love-it or hate-it kind of movies. Imagine the most disgusting act you can think of. Now multiply that by 1,000 and you’ll get close to how the level of disgusting that pertains to Jackass 3D. Do images of poop, urine, dripping sweat and vomit make you laugh out loud? How about a bunch of people engaging in masochistic behavior? If so, you’ll enjoy every single prank found in this unapologetically sick, perverted, deranged, and profoundly inane film. You’ll have to see it to believe it.
... and looking forward
Nov 4: Due Date: US, Comedy – 1 hr 40 mins – A high-strung father-to-be, played by Robert Downey Jr., is forced to hitch a ride with a college slacker (and aspiring actor) on a road trip in order to make it to his child's birth on time. With Jamie Foxx. Rated R in the US for language, drug use, and sexual content.
Nov 18: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I: UK/ US, Adventure/ Fantasy/ Mystery – Voldemort's power is growing stronger. He now has control over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to finish Dumbledore's work and find the rest of the Horcruxes to defeat the Dark Lord. But little hope remains for the Trio, and the rest of the Wizarding World, so everything they do must go as planned. The first of the two-part conclusion to the series; Part II due in July of 2011 – both directed by David Yates, who has directed the last two Harry Potter films. Both of the concluding movies (Part I and Part II) will be shown completely in 3D and in IMAX 3D.
Nov 25: Let Me In: UK/ US, Drama/ Fantasy/ Horror/ Romance/ Thriller – A bullied young boy befriends a young female vampire who lives in secrecy with her guardian. Chloë Grace Moretz (one of the nice things about the movie Kick-Ass; she played Hit Girl) stars as Abby, a mysterious 12-year-old who moves next door to Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a social outcast who is viciously bullied at school. In his loneliness, Owen forms a profound bond with his new neighbor, but he can't help noticing that Abby is decidedly weird! I’m really looking forward to this.
The original – Let the Right One In – is a terrific 2008 award-winning Swedish film, and will be playing at Film Space on Saturday evening, October 30. I love the original, and they’re saying the remake is terrific too! For sure, it’s got an exciting and intriguing trailer, which you can see here. Rated R in the US for strong bloody horror violence, language, and a brief sexual situation. Generally favorable reviews: 78/79 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Similar to the original in all the right ways -- but with enough changes to stand on its own -- Let Me In is the rare Hollywood remake that doesn't add insult to inspiration.
Nov 25: The Social Network: US, Drama/ History – By David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac, Panic Room). A story about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook. Studio synopsis: “On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.”
The buzz was that this was the film to beat at next year’s Academy Awards . . . until it opened and didn’t get the response expected. Now, the field has opened up. But this is still right up there among the most significant films of the year. Mark Zuckerberg is not quite sure he likes the way he’s portrayed, except that he knows notoriety can be changed into power and money, and he’s okay with that. A misfit nerd gets 500 million – folks, that’s half a billion – people to his website, and makes an awful lot of money.
Jan 6, 2011: Hereafter: US, Thriller – A supernatural thriller centered on three people -- a blue-collar American, a French journalist and a London school boy -- who are touched by death in different ways. Matt Damon, directed by Clint Eastwood.
* = Coming soon
AF = Alliance Française; FS = Film Space; GF = Gay Film Series
At 1st Doi Saket International Film Festival
It’s being held in various locations in the Chiang Mai-Doi Saket areas, October 23 to 30. Over 100 films – all are free.
But here I want to give a heads-up alert to a film I’m personally looking forward to a great deal, and which I think is well worth your consideration, Mundane History.
It’s scheduled for a week from today, and I think you should make room in your calendar to see it. .
Thursday, October 28 At Alliance Française
Doi Saket IFF at Alliance Française, Chiang Mai - 138 Charoen Prathet Road. The building is directly opposite Wat Chaimongkhon, near the Chedi Hotel.
Thursday, October 28, 6 pm:
Mundane History / Jao nok krajok / เจ้านกกระจอก (2009) written and directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong, supported by Electric Eel Film Co., Ltd. – 1 hr 22 mins – Thai, Drama – In Thai, with English subtitles. Explores the relationship between Ake, a young man who is paralyzed from the waist down after an accident, and Pun, the male nurse who takes care of him, and Ake's father. Ake is at first cold towards his nurse Pun, but as Pun continues to earnestly take care of him he starts to open up his heart through candid conversations. The physical contact with Pun makes him rethink physical desires that he wants to forget. The grudge he held against his father slowly abates. All of this slowly becomes the motivating factor to confirm that he is alive, albeit with physical problems. Rated 20+ in Thailand. Note: Whereas the other ratings are suggestions and not legally binding, 20+ is. And you must have ID to prove your age.
Trailer available here.
Doi Saket IFF: Perhaps one of the most famous Thai movies premiered in prestigious international film festivals. With the help of DSIFF and the nonprofit organization Cultural Canvas Thailand, this film will be used to raise donations to help disabled children in Chiang Mai.
MUBI: Udo Kier is the Baron Frankenstein, attempting to create a new race of humans out of body parts. He wants to mate his male creation to his female... Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History is not uninteresting. A male nurse joins the staff of a well-to-do family to care for a son about the same age whose bitterness over being paralyzed by some sort of accident has turned to outright nastiness. The first half or more of the film is the mundane part, the sheer mechanics of meals and baths and allowing the son's insults to roll off one's back, as befits the nurse's social station. But eventually, yes, of course, the ice breaks and the young men establish a tentative friendship. Segue to the history part. Remember when, in Adaptation, "Charlie Kaufman" has his breakthrough and suddenly realizes that to tell his story right, he'll have to go back to the dawn of time and retrace the birth of the cosmos, the evolution of humankind and all that? Well. Even though, thanks to Suwichakornpong's penchant for scrambling sequences of events ever just so, we do learn that our whiplash trip through an animated explosion of a supernova, backed by a sort of Thai pop Vangelis score, is actually a presentation at a planetarium, the string of montages it sets off does indeed eventually lead to a scene that could well be interpreted as a graphically literal depiction of reincarnation.
Eye for Film, Angus Wolfe Murray: Udo Kier is the Baron Frankenstein, attempting to create a new race of humans out of body parts. He wants to mate his male creation to his female... If this were a leaf it would lie on the forest floor in perfect stillness. The eyes of insects inspect, blink and swivel away. The leaf has no meaning, only shape. Wind rustles the branches of a tree. The leaf lies quietly, waiting for winter. Is this the end of life, energy’s car crash?
Pun (Arkaney Cherkham) is a male nurse in Bangkok. He has been hired to care for Ake (Phakpoom Surapongsanurak), who has had an accident of some kind. At times, the patient is comatose, as if paralyzed. At others, he is polar, throwing things about. Nothing happens. Ake masturbates in the bath. This is the limit of physical activity. Pun is quiet, competent and considerate. He reads a lot.
“Is it possible to live without a past?” Pun asks Ake. “Is it possible to live without a future?” Anocha Suwichakornpong’s film does. And yet somewhere, resting in the folds of its intellectual laundry, is a question about the finite existence of man on earth and nature’s miracle of rebirth.
The leaf is silent. It is beautiful. Soon it will decay. Ake knows. He will lie in his bed far beyond winter, embraced by empty air.
And the audience howls for action.
Wise Kwai: Saturday, November 7, 2009 - Like a jazz saxophone solo, Mundane History wails. It circles around, repeats patterns and doubles back on itself. It starts and stops yet also flows. It reaches highs that zoom into outer space, into the heart of a supernova, and comes crashing back down to Earth with a big splat.
Taking the idea of non-linear storytelling to new heights, Mundane History begins in the middle and ends with a beginning.
It's a startling debut feature from Anocha Suwichakornpong. Her 2006 Columbia University thesis short Graceland is the first and so far only Thai film to be selected for the Cinefondation shorts program at the Cannes Film Festival. She's made some other pretty cool and weird shorts, but I don't think anyone expected a film like this.
Then again, everything she's done up to now has had a certain precision and shown to be the work of a sure, steady hand. So perhaps she was holding back, waiting to spring this one on us, and leave everyone flabbergasted.
It was certainly a smashing opener for the 7th World Film Festival of Bangkok, electrifying even with its opening chords of distortion-heavy rock guitar. (Great music by the way, from the Photo Sticker Machine and Furniture.)
As pieced together through the chronologically fractured timeline, the story is about a young man named Ake who is paralyzed from the waist down after an accident. A male nurse, Pun, is hired to care for him. Pun is a chunky guy, with big biceps that are necessary, because he has to carry Ake around in the two-story house that doesn't have ramps or a lift.
Ake is the scion of an upper-class family. The only parent around, though not very much, is his father, who is kind but distant. There's a stern, maternal housekeeper, a bubbly cook and a groundskeeper-guard. Pun the nurse lives with the servants in their quarters. The estate is a nice enough place, but is showing signs of age.
The film -- Thai title Jao Nok Krajok (เจ้านกกระจอก) -- is heavy with metaphor. Anocha has said that one thing it comments about is Thailand's treatment of disabled people.
"They are like nok krajok [sparrows], a common bird found everywhere in Thailand. We catch these birds then release them to make merit yet we think of them as insignificant even though they are everywhere. That's why I chose this name for the film," she explained in a recent Daily Xpress article.
The repeated patterns and non-linear storyline are meant to fit with the daily life of a paralyzed person, in which each day is the same and things that were said before are said again. The frustration over the mind-numbing routine is symbolized in a revealing bathtub scene involving Ake that is notable and probably historic for Thai cinema.
There were fears of censorship because of that scene, but happily that one made it through.
Anocha has also said that all the characters in her film, including the house, could be seen as allegories to Thailand. Just what parts each character plays is probably something each person who sees this movie will appreciate having to figure out for themselves.
But it's hard to not share one piece of dialogue.
Pun, talking on the phone to someone about his new job, says that the house is beautiful, but the people in it are soulless.
I don't know about that. That Mundane History has been made is evidence that there may indeed be a soul, somewhere.
* Wise Kwai's rating: 5/5
At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm
The Alliance Française shows its series of French films in a small room in their building at 138 Charoen Prathet Road. The building is directly opposite Wat Chaimongkhon, near the Chedi Hotel. Tell your taxi "Samakhom Frangset" and/or "Wat Chaimongkhon." A contribution of 30 baht is requested; you pay outside at the information desk of the Alliance Française proper.
With Alain Delon, Michel Lonsdale, Jeanne Moreau, Juliette Bert, Massimo Girotti, Suzanne Flon.
In occupied France during the Second World War, an antique collector of Alsatian descent, Mr. Klein, is mistakenly taken for a Jew and mercilessly tracked down by the Gestapo…
– Alliance description
Rotten Tomatoes: Alain Delon stars as the eponymous protagonist in Joseph Losey's first French film, Mr. Klein. Living a posh life amid the chaos and turmoil of Nazi-occupied Paris, Mr. Klein makes his living buying art at cutthroat rates from desperate Jews fleeing the country. When a Jewish newspaper is mistakenly addressed to him, Klein learns of the existence of another, Jewish Mr. Klein. Klein reports the irregularity to the police, only to find himself further implicated in intrigue and danger. Embarking on a desperate search for his namesake, Klein visits his apartment and intercepts a secret invitation, bringing him into contact with the other Klein's world -- and lover (played by Jeanne Moreau). Sinking into a paranoid fervor, Klein becomes a detective, searching for any evidence of the other Klein's whereabouts. As the Nazis close in and his double continues to elude him, the very name Mr. Klein, echoing sinisterly throughout the film, becomes a talisman of fear and panicked guilt. The secret societies and poisoned atmosphere of Vichy France come to life as Mr. Klein's Kafkaesque nightmare leads him unwittingly into a startled appreciation of the plight of the persecuted. Losey's restrained direction matched with Delon's emotive presence combine to create a powerful psychological and moral thriller.
On Friday, October 29, 8 pm: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud / Elevator to the Gallows / Frantic (1958) by Louis Malle – 88 mins – Drama / Crime / Thriller. 16 mm film, B&W. English subtitles. Music by Miles Davis.
With Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet, Georges Poujouly, Yori Bertin, Jean Wall, Elga Andersen, Sylviane Aisenstein, and Micheline Bona.
An industrialist is assassinated, but an elevator breakdown prevents a perfect crime. Louis Malle's 1957 masterpiece of suspense and film noir starring Jeanne Moreau, in the role that catapulted her to international stardom. A wonderful original score by the legendary Miles Davis. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 93 out of 100.
– Alliance description
It's a tightly structured thriller with a brilliantly moody performance by Jeanne Moreau, and depending on your point of view, it's either one of the few genuine French noir films or an early entry in the New Wave. The plot is virtually archetypal: Moreau and her ex-paratrooper lover (Maurice Ronet) plot the murder of her husband, but one minor oversight launches a disastrous stream of consequences. We've got a murderer trapped in an elevator with the cops closing in, a beautiful woman wandering the Parisian streets alone and a couple of hotheaded kids in a stolen convertible with a loaded gun. The cinematography by Henri Decaë is amazing -- and yes, Davis' awesome cool-jazz score is even better with pictures attached.
At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
October is “The Month of Undead Returns” at Film Space.
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Showings are in a classroom on the second floor or on the roof, weather permitting. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance – you should leave at least 20 baht. Well worth supporting. All films not in English are shown with English subtitles.
At Film Space Saturday, October 23, 7 pm: Holiday – no showing. Chulalongkorn Day (Rama V Day).
At Film Space Saturday, October 30, 7 pm: Let the Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in (2008) by Tomas Alfredson – 1 hr 55 mins – Sweden, Drama/ Fantasy/ Mystery/ Romance – In Swedish with English subtitles. A terrific award-winning Swedish film, the original of the soon-to-be-released Hollywood remake, Let Me In, which they say is as terrific as the original. But I love the original one here. Rated R in the US for some bloody violence, including disturbing images, brief nudity, and language. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 82/82 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Elvis Presley is still alive, now in his late sixties, but confined to a rest home in Texas. Here, he recounts how he escaped fame with the help of an... Reinvigorates the seemingly tired vampire genre by effectively mixing scares with intelligent storytelling.
Rotten Tomatoes synopsis: Elvis Presley is still alive, now in his late sixties, but confined to a rest home in Texas. Here, he recounts how he escaped fame with the help of an... Oskar, a bullied 12-year old, dreams of revenge. He falls in love with Eli, a peculiar girl. She can't stand the sun or food and to come into a room she needs to be invited. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back but when he realizes that Eli needs to drink other people’s blood to live he's faced with a choice. How much can love forgive? Let The Right One In is a story both violent and highly romantic, set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1982.
At the Gay Film Series
Films with a gay theme shown every two weeks, with very limited seating, in a private home. Reservations a must to attend films in this series. To reserve: send email to: Chiangmai.firstname.lastname@example.org, mark in subject area “reserve” with the number in your party. For example, “Re: reserve 2.” A confirmation will be sent. To be placed on the mailing list for advance notice of movies just put in the subject line: “mailing list.”
Sunday, October 24, 7 pm: Before the Fall (2004) written and directed by Dennis Gansel – 1 hr 57 mins – Germany, Drama/ Sport/ War – In 1942, Friedrich Weimer's boxing skills get him an appointment to a National Political Academy (NaPolA) - high schools that produce Nazi elite. Over his father's objections, Friedrich enrolls, seeing this as his ticket out of factory life to university and a good salary. During his year in seventh column (fifth form), this innocence is altered as Friedrich encounters hazing, cruelty, death, and the Nazi code. His friendship with Albrecht, the ascetic son of the area's governor, is central to this education; a night in the forest hunting for escaped Russian POWs brings things to a head. Generally favorable reviews: 66/66 out of 100. Reservations a must.
“There will be a discussion about the film after, with tea, coffee, or soft drinks. Please bring munchies such as cookies, cake, etc. to share. There will only be 8 people and you must reserve. This is on a first come first serve basis.”
Rotten Tomatoes consensus: Despite a degree of predictability and clichés, the high production values and sincere performances by the leads elevate this coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany.
Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas: Commands attention from its very first frame and never lets up right through the fade-out. It is a splendid example of classic screen storytelling with no false steps, and Gansel's understated approach pays off with resounding emotional effect and meaning.
IMDB Viewer: Top notch production
The subject matter is not unfamiliar - a decent German (in this case a talented young boxer) fights to retain his humanity in the face of Nazi pressure to lose it as a bad habit. At heavy cost to himself he refuses. And thinking back to the beginning of the movie we should not be surprised: to accept the invitation to attend an elite academy he must defy his father. To maintain his self-respect later on he must defy the surrogate fathers he has acquired at the academy.
This is a superbly produced, directed film. The young actors' performances are believable and affecting. And for people who care about such things, Max Riemelt as Friedrich, the young, virile, gorgeous protagonist is a very easy guy to look at.