'Mundane History'

Unusually edited meditation on family, class, life cycles and politics.

A recently paralyzed young man learns to release some of his anger thanks to the ministrations of a male nurse in the always intriguing, occasionally perplexing “Mundane History.” Despite what it sounds like, there’s no gay subtext here; rather, the pic is an unusually edited meditation on family, class, life cycles and politics. Debuting helmer Anocha Suwitchakornpong and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular editor, Lee Chatametikool, play with temporal shifts meant to favor rhythm over linearity, but while the experiment creates some nice qualities, it does become overcalculated. Fest exposure will continue following a Tiger win at Rotterdam.

It will take some viewers a while to get used to the regular temporal interruptions in the film, which jumps back at several points to recover earlier moments. An accident has paralyzed Ake (Phakpoom Surapongsanurak) from the waist down, and nurse Pun (Arkaney Cherkham) arrives to live in Ake’s wealthy household, observing the tensions between Ake and his father, Thanin (Paramej Noieam), as well as the circumscribed roles accorded the servants. As Pun tells his mother on the phone, the house is beautiful but everyone inside is soulless.

With time, Pun cracks Ake’s petulance, and the two develop a rapport. Pun takes Ake to a planetarium, where a spectacularly psychedelic CGI rendition of a supernova is accompanied by the music of Malaysian band Furniture. The sudden visual shift signals an awakening and proves rather effective.

Subsequent scenes continue along unexpected lines, with news shots of a political rally followed by an extended sequence featuring a C-section birth. The metaphors aren’t hard to grasp, and the political message uncovers the helmer’s subtext that the relationships within the house have a larger societal meaning. However, viewers without a reasonably deep knowledge of Thai life may find themselves stumped.

Some of the pic feels both a bit green and overambitious for a first feature, but Suwitchakornpong delivers a work that holds attention even when certain pieces don’t always fit together. She’s certainly a director to watch.

Calling the film “Mundane History” is meant to draw attention to life’s quotidian tasks, partly repeated through the shifts in time. But the helmer is wise enough not to push the concept too far. More of the father-son relationship would have helped, but the presence of the servants, who are allotted ample screen time, adds nice layers.

Pic was shot on a tiny budget with post-production support from the Hubert Bals Fund, and the visuals, until the CGI supernova, fit with the low-key approach. Unlike many in the new generation of Southeast Asian helmers, Suwitchakornpong doesn’t go in for distancing; instead, she uses intimate behavior to gain sympathy for her accessible protags.

Mundane History

Thailand

Production

An Electric Eel Films production. (International sales: Electric Eel, Bangkok). Produced by Soros Sukhum, Anocha Suwitchakornpong. Co-producer, Lee Chatametikool. Directed, written by Anocha Suwitchakornpong.

Crew

Camera (color), Leung Ming-kai; editor, Lee Chatametikool; music, the Photo Sticker Machine, Furniture; production designer, Parinda Moongmaiphol; costume designer, Thanon Songsil; sound (Dolby SRD), Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (competing), Jan. 29, 2010. (Also in 2009 Pusan, Bangkok film festivals.) Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Phakpoom Surapongsanurak, Arkaney Cherkham, Paramej Noieam, Anchana Ponpitakthepkij, Karuna Looktumthong.
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