Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival Report: TOTAL PEN-EK (Ratanaruang)

If you were asked to identify 10 directors which lead to the inspiration of the creation of Twitch, well, you would have to ask Todd, but I would hazard a guess that one of them would be Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. From his debut Fun Bar Karaoke to the waaay more than a Quentin Tarantino rip-off 6ixtynin9 (yea, people have actually accused the film of this. They are wrong.) and of course the undeniable masterpiece that is Last Life in the Universe -- the man is more than a little loved in these parts (although we didn't like Invisible Waves too much, Ploy redeemed all). The fine folks at the Reel Asian International Film Festival put together a programme consisting of a variety of short works from one of the leading lights of Thai cinema. Works ranged from life insurance commercials, a don't-do-drugs PSA, a Nike sponsored documentary about a soccer pad underneath one of Bangkok's raised highways and the short digitally shot Twelve Twenty which featured Christopher Doyle on cinematography duties.

Thoughts on each after the jump.

The Nike sponsored Total Bangkok has Ratanaruang at his warmest. A love letter to more to the good side of human nature and joy of companionship than to the actual sport, it nonetheless features some great hand-held camera work following the ball on an unusual soccer field. You see the playing field is actually a space of concrete located directly under one of the elevated highways in Bangkok. Several enthusiastic locals have painted some lines, strung some lights and keep balls and nets on hand for week-long evenings of pick-up football. The director himself even kicks the ball around a few times. Traffic noises, pedestrians, onlookers hover at the fringe of their ongoing games. What makes this short film so memorable is that Ratanaruang shows the regulars, young men who are there seemingly every night, have found the key to happiness that lies beyond any sense of career achievement, social acknowledgment or even girlfriend/spouse. It is just relaxing with a few friends and kicking a ball around for the sport of things. As a bonus their little area of nirvana is never rained upon due to the highway above.

The commercials follow the directors own words: " TV Commercials should be short, clear and elegant. If they manage to be funny too, that’s even better. " There is a morbidity on hand that you do not often seen in Canadian/American ads, particularly a nasty anti-drug PSA which features young folks strung out and enjoying themselves on a variety of illegal narcotics intercut with neglected infants (on fire!) amongst other physical and social consequences of substance abuse. The ads for a life insurance company are the best mix of gallows humour and slapstick seen also in Ratanaruang's 1999 feature 6ixtynin9.

The capper in this programme was a short film, Twelve Twenty, was part of the digital short project at the 2006 Jeonju International Film Festival. It uses a 12 hour flight from Bangkok to Berlin as a temporal metaphor for a life spent with someone you love. A man spies a woman across the lounge in an airport, yet is afraid to approach her, coincidently he ends up beside her on the same plane, yet still cannot break the ice. He drinks, fantasizes, spies on what she is reading and listening to on her iPod, yet still lets her go in the end, not knowing her any more than one person can know another. It is slightly absurd at times, when the pilots messages to the other passengers basically tell the man to get of his ass and talk to this woman. Christopher Doyle lights the film softly (and dimly, although this may have been a minor issue with the Digital Beta Source) makes it as if these two are the only people on the plane (other than the stewardess and pilot - played by Doyle himself). The mixture of anxiety, regret and ennui perfectly capture the themes and styles of Ratanaruang's recent features.

As the 11th Annual Reel Asian International Film Film Festival winds down at this exact moment, I'm a bit regretful for my own inability to get out of more of their programming. Bring on the 12th Festival then.

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