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March 8 – April 13, 2019

New Thai Cinema

When director Apichatpong Weerasethakul received funding in 2003 for a film with the title Monster!, the mainstream Thai studios backing the project expected the kind of film that they had been financing for decades: a fast-paced, action-packed mythical-horror film with lots of gore, sex and, well, monsters! While Weerasethakul’s film delivered on the monsters and sex, it was neither the kind of monster nor the kind of sex they had in mind. Nor did they anticipate that the film (Tropical Malady in English) would become an international sensation, and the first Thai film to be in the main competition at Cannes, where it won the Jury Prize. Realizing that Weerasethakul was creating a film Sight and Sound described as “a work of outstanding originality and power,” the studios’ response was swift and unequivocal: the immediate withdrawal of all investment.

When the Thai film industry nearly grinded to a halt as a result of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, something completely unexpected happened: a new kind of cinema began to emerge from the wreckage, a kind of cinema that not only dared to challenge the traditional narratives describing the previous centuries’ seemingly endless cycle of political violence, but also one that pushed the structural and conceptual boundaries of cinema. This film series is an attempt to highlight this history, beginning at the start of the millennium with Tropical Malady and following the development of independent Thai cinema all the way to last year’s Manta Ray.

While the political violence in Thailand has yet to find resolution, young filmmakers have, for the past two decades, forged a new and innovative approach to creating films outside of the mainstream studio system. Despite a near total lack of government-sponsored funding for the arts and in the face of draconian censorship and lèse-majesté laws, emerging filmmakers from Thailand have developed an open and collaborative environment to foster the creation of bold and challenging films. This independent system opened the doors to many silenced voices, including a new generation of women filmmakers such as Pimpaka Towira, whose Island Funeral will have its Boston debut, as well as Danaya Chulphuthiphong’s Night Watch, Jirassaya Wongsutin’s That Day of the Month and Puangsoi Aksornsawang’s Nakorn-Sawan.

The New Thai Cinema series celebrates these filmmakers, from whose work has emerged a distinctive and uncompromising voice in contemporary international cinema. – Anocha Suwichakornpong, filmmaker and Visiting Lecturer on Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard

Curated by Anocha Suwichakornpong.

Co-sponsored by the Asia Center, Harvard.

 

 

 


Introduction by Anocha Suwichakornpong
Friday March 8 at 7pm

The Songs of Rice
(Pleng khong kao)

Directed by Uruphong Raksasad
Thailand 2014, DCP, color, 75 min. Thai with English subtitles

Uruphong Raksasad concludes his agriculture trilogy (Stories from the North, Agrarian Utopia) with a visual record of the lifecycle of Thailand’s most important and symbolic crop: rice. Focusing less on narrative and more on the visceral experience surrounding the farming, The Songs of Rice, as the title suggests, features the use of music and songs that chronicle the growth of rice, from cultivation, to harvest, right through to the moment when it is consumed. However, the songs in this film do not merely act as a soundtrack or accompaniment to the motion picture, rather, they document a traditional practice in which Thai farmers would sing to their beloved crop: the songs they sing were written for the rice. Raksasad, who himself came from a rice-farming family, presents this fascinating practice at the core of his artful study. The result is a masterfully crafted aural and visual tribute to rice and the people who cultivate it.

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Friday March 8 at 8:45pm

Vanishing Point

Directed by Jakrawal Nilthamrong. With Ongard Cheamcharoenpornkul, Drunphob Suriyawong, Chalee Choueyai
Thailand/The Netherlands 2015, DCP, color & b/w, 100 min. Thai with English subtitles

Winner of the Rotterdam Tiger Award, Vanishing Point takes a kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling. The film’s main narrative follows several characters—a young journalist, a motel owner and a monk—whose narratives each provide a different piece of a puzzle revolving around a car accident. Inspired by a real-life car accident that involved his parents, the film is not simply a recounting of an event and the lives of the people involved; instead, Nilthamrong imagines the alternate lives and pathways of his characters crisscrossing with one another across time, with no beginning and no end.

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Saturday March 9 at 7pm

Eternity (Tee rak)

Directed by Sivaroj Kongsakul. With Pattraporn Jaturanrassmee, Wanlop Rungkumjad, Namfon Udomlertlak
Thailand 2011, digital video, color, 105 min. Thai with English subtitles

Another winner of the coveted Rotterdam Tiger Award, Sivaroj Kongsakul’s first feature Eternity explores the burgeoning relationship of the director’s own parents as teenagers in rural Thailand. Structured as a triptych that begins with his father returning home after his own death, the film explores the cyclical (or eternal) understanding of love, life and death propagated by Buddhist theology and Eastern philosophy. With deliberate and contemplative pacing, Kongsakul demonstrates an ability for sensitively capturing delicate and transient moments that cannot be scripted or rehearsed, but arise spontaneously as the result of human interaction, both with other humans as well as with natural and built environments. As the film slips into an ethereal world where each small gesture expresses its own logic, it begins to develop a quiet and fragile tension that is slowly released as days turn into decades and children turn into parents.

Preceded by

Night Watch

Directed by Danaya Chulphuthiphong
Thailand 2015, DCP, color, 10 min. No dialogue

An ordinary night during the coup d’état. The 2014 Thai coup d’état on May 22, which was declared after months of anti-government protests, is warmly welcomed by the middle class in Bangkok. – DC

 

 

 

 

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Sunday March 10 at 4pm

Railway Sleepers (Mon Rot Fai)

Directed by Sompot Chidgasornpongse
Thailand 2017, DCP, color, 102 min. Thai with English subtitles

Filmed over a period of eight years onboard trains traveling across every active railway line in Thailand, Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s first feature is as much an intimate glimpse of passengers in transit as it is a portrait of a country in the midst of unprecedented transition. Chidgasornpongse’s skillfully crafted debut offers a thoughtful examination of the history and class dynamics of a country being hurdled forward into an uncertain future. It is also a remarkable mediation on temporality, light and movement. The film draws as much on the formal structuralism of his former teacher James Benning as it builds upon the contemplative experimentation of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Railway Sleepers’ Executive Producer) with whom Chidgasornpongse has worked as an assistant director for many films and gallery projects over the past fifteen years.

Preceded by

A Room with a Coconut View

Directed by Tulapop Saenjaroen
Thailand 2018, DCP, color, 29 min. Thai with English subtitles

A tour guide and also a hotel rep automated voice, Kanya, leads her foreign guest, Alex, through a beach town in the east of Thailand called Bangsaen. Since Kanya’s presentation is overtly aestheticized and strictly regimented, Alex decides to explore the town by himself, fantasizing to get out of the frame. – TS

 

 

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Sunday April 7 at 7pm

Nakorn-Sawan

Directed by Puangsoi Aksornsawang. With Prapamonton Eiamchan, Jarunun Phantachat, Phumipat Thavornsiri
Thailand/Germany 2018, DCP, color, 90 min. Thai with English subtitles

Nakorn Sawan—which literally means “Heaven City” in Thai—is the name of a province north of Bangkok. It is the place where the Ping and Nan rivers merge to form Chao Phraya, the main river running through Bangkok. Believed by many Thais to be the gateway to heaven, it is the place where the characters in the film convene to send their loved one to the afterlife.

Conceived as a graduation film for her master’s degree at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg, Nakorn-Sawan is Aksornsawang’s first feature. Weaving together documentary footage of her mother and father—who separated when the director was a young teenager—and a fictionalized narrative performed by young actors, the film is a delicate meditation on love, loss and memory. DCP courtesy Donsaron Kovitvanitcha.

Preceded by

That Day of the Month
(Wannan kong duen)

Directed by Jirassaya Wongsutin. With Jiraporn Saelee, Arachaporn Pokinpakorn, Pakapol Srirongmuang
Thailand 2014, digital video, color, 30 min. Thai with English subtitles

Goy and Lee, two 12th-grade girls, are best friends who always sit next to each other in the classroom. Right on schedule, the girls' periods always arrive at the same time every month, until now… - JW

 

 

 

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Monday April 8 at 7pm

The Island Funeral
(Maha samut lae susaan)

Directed by Pimpaka Towira. With Heen Sasithorn, Aukrit Pronsumpunsuk, Yosawat Sitiwong
Thailand 2017, DCP, color, 105 min. Thai with English subtitles

Towira’s second fictional feature is a road movie about a group of young people who travel down to Pattani, a province in the predominantly Muslim south of Thailand to visit their hometown and a distant relative. What begins as a conventional narrative soon turns into a dark and atmospheric study of a troubled nation. When the characters finally reach their destination—a mysterious island where the inhabitants of different races and religions seem to be living in a state of utopia—we enter into a realm where the real and the imagined coexist, bearing witness to the impending death of a place. DCP courtesy Extra Virgin.

Preceded by

Endless, Nameless

Directed by Mont Tesprateep
Thailand 2014, digital video, b/w, 23 min

Endless, Nameless is a hand-processed Super 8 film, shot in the private garden of a Thai army officer. The film reconstructs the filmmaker’s memories about groups of conscripts who worked in his father's garden. The film was created as a self-hypnosis to reinvestigate his existence. – MT

 

 

 

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Friday April 12 at 7pm

Tropical Malady (Sud pralad)

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. With Banlop Lomnoi, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Huai Dessom
Thailand/France/Germany/Italy 2004, 35mm, color, 118 min. Thai with English subtitles

A Jury Prize winner at Cannes, Weerasethakul’s third feature heralded a new wave of auteur cinema in Thailand. Audacious in its form and content, the film begins with an unassuming love story between a male soldier—who comes to a small town on a mission—and a young local man. While we witness the courtship and the blossoming of young love, the film bifurcates into something entirely new after the young man disappears into the dark. The narrative begins again, this time following the soldier as he searches for a shaman in the form of a tiger. Much of the screen time is dedicated to the darkness of the jungle and the animals and spirits that inhabit the place. Print courtesy UCLA.

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Phuttiphong Aroonpheng's visit has been cancelled
Introduction by Anocha Suwichakornpong

Saturday April 13 at 7pm

Manta Ray (Kraben rahu)

Directed by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng. With Aphisit Hama, Wanlop Rungkumjad, Rasmee Wayrana
Thailand/France/China 2018, DCP, color, 105 min. Thai with English subtitles

Aroonpheng’s feature debut as a director (he was a cinematographer for both Vanishing Point and The Island Funeral) is a poetic rendition of one of the most pressing issues in global politics today: the plight of the Rohingya refugees. Awarded the Orrizonti Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2018, the film has since been prominently featured on the festival circuit, winning many awards including Best Film at Mumbai Film Festival and Best Director at Thessaloniki Film Festival. The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to screen Manta Ray right after its US premiere at New Directors, New Films.

Manta Ray follows the friendship between a Thai fisherman and a mute migrant worker that he discovers injured and nurtures back to health. When the fisherman refuses to take an order from his boss—a directive that may relate to the (dis)appearances of the refugees in town—he himself is made to disappear. Print courtesy Jour2Fête.

Preceded by

With History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 4

Directed by Korakrit Arunanondchai
Thailand 2018, digital video, color, 24 min

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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