The per­ils of putting his­tory on film

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK ★★★ Di­rected by Anocha Suwichako­rn­pong Star­ring Visra Vi­chit-Vadakan, Arak Amorn­su­pasiri, Ras­sami Paolu­eng­ton, Apinya Sakul­jaroen­suk, Achtara Suwan Club, IFI mem­bers, 105mins

Vis­i­tors take pho­to­graphs of a ru­ral house and pray. Sol­diers bark at dozens of young men and women hog-tied in a ware­house, which turns out to be movie set. En­gaged stu­dents dis­cuss po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism. A no ch aSuwic hako­rn­pong’s for­mally-dar­ing sec­ond fea­ture be­gins as a film about mak­ing a film about the 1976 Tham­masat Univer­sity Massacre.

Young film-maker Ann (Visra Vi­chit-Vadakan), pre­sum­ably a sur­ro­gate for the di­rec­tor, in­ter­views Taew (Ras­sami Paolu­eng­ton), a mid­dle-aged writer who was in­volved in these ill-fated stu­dent demon­stra­tions.

The en­counter is ex­cru­ci­at­ing: “I read books about 1976 and I think of you in the midst of it all and you’re still here: You’re liv­ing his­tory,” gushes Ann. “I ap­pro­pri­ate some­one’s life and make it into a film, maybe be­cause my life is mun­dane,” she con­tin­ues. Tellingly, dire ct orSuwic hako­rn­pong’s last film was called Mun­dane His­tory.

The el­derly in­ter­vie­wee

shrugs off the com­pli­ments: “I’m not liv­ing his­tory, I’m just a sur­vivor.”

The Oc­to­ber 6th event, as it is called in Thai­land, claimed any­where be­tween 46 and more than 100 lives, and was per­pe­trated by gov­ern­ment forces and right-wing paramil­i­taries. With a nod to the Thai ephemera of Apichat­pong Weerasethakul ( Un­cle Boon­mee Who Can Re­call His Past Lives, Ceme­tery of

Splen­dour), the un­knowa­bil­ity of his­tor­i­cal facts is re­flected by the film’s shape-shift­ing and free as­so­ci­a­tions.

One ac­tor, Atchara Suwan, ap­pears as a wait­ress, a cleaner and a Bud­dhist monk. An­other char­ac­ter, Peter (Arak Amorn­su­pasiri) picks to­bacco in the coun­try­side, returns to his sleek modern apart­ment, en­ters a cock­pit as a pi­lot (in­evitably this is a flight sim­u­la­tion) and makes a pop video, re­plete with fake

rocks on wheels and a catchy, the­mat­i­cally rel­e­vant cho­rus: “Please don’t lie to me.”

Else­where, there are mush­rooms ev­ery­where: served in food, grow­ing in wood, dis­cov­ered by the aero­nauts in a clip from Ge­orges Méliès’s 1902 film A Trip to the Moon.

Fi­nally, after Ann sees, or pos­si­bly hal­lu­ci­nates, a boy in tiger py­ja­mas, she chases him into a for­est and dis­cov­ers a glit­ter­ing fun­gus, the kind you would ex­pect uni­corns to chow down on.

It may be too el­lip­ti­cal for main­stream tastes, but Suwichako­rn­pong, a Thai-born grad­u­ate of the MFA film pro­gramme at Columbia Univer­sity, has fash­ioned quite the Go­dar­d­ian puz­zle. His­tory has sel­dom seemed more chal­leng­ing. And his­tory on film is a hiding to noth­ing.

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