Economic and personal crises come together in “Concrete Clouds,” a respectable helming debut from editor Lee Chatametikool. Produced by some of his better-known collaborators including Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Anocha Suwichakornpong, the pic is less distinctively arthouse than those directors’ more esoteric stylings, often seeming uncertain how to handle the story of two brothers coming together in Bangkok following their father’s suicide. Nothing meaningful is added by riffing on 1990s bubblegum musicvideos, used as counterpoint, but the brothers’ relationships with two intriguing women provide some depth. Given the powerhouse producers, it’s likely “Clouds” will float through the fest firmament.
Mutt (Ananda Everingham), a 30-year-old currency trader in New York, flies back to Thailand when he learns his father killed himself by jumping off a building. It’s late 1997: The Asian economic crash is wiping people out, and Mutt returns home to be with his younger brother, Nic (Prawith Hansten), 18, and sort out the family’s affairs. This is the weakest part of the film, as Chatametikool fails to convince auds that their father’s death has much of an impact on the two brothers.
“To be a man you gotta learn how to love,” Mutt tells Nic, referring not to his relationship with lackluster American g.f. Kate (Kate Reilly), but the feelings he still harbors for his ex, Sai (Janesuda Parnto), a former actress now working in marketing. Mutt contacts her and clearly sparks remain, but the comedown from minor star to businesswoman isn’t easy, and creditors are banging on her door, forcing her to put her heart aside in favor of a more lucrative alliance.
Nic didn’t need Mutt’s dictum about love, since he’s pining for Poupee (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, “Same Same but Different”), a troubled young woman living with her prostitute sister. More friend than lover, Nic imagines their romance in the form of cheesy musicvideos; the idea lends a certain period nostalgia, a kind of yearning for the carefree youthful days before responsibility and tanking markets, but Chatametikool needs to play more with the concept if he’s trying to make deeper statements.
This inability to bring everything together in a meaningful manner plagues much of “Concrete Clouds,” which favors a fairly traditional love-story narrative that toys with other elements, yet rarely manages to make anything distinctive. Poupee is by far the most interesting role, partly because Sakuljaroensuk conveys a striking note of ambiguity, but it feels as if the script doesn’t know how to fully engage with her character. What lingers most is the sadness of disappointed promise: For Mutt and Sai, their experience of optimistic youth now leaves bittersweet regret, whereas for the younger Nic and Poupee, any lighthearted sense of the future is just a throwback to another era.
Jarin Pengpanich, d.p. on “Tropical Malady,” is especially sensitive to penumbral lighting and spaces that leave figures isolated and vulnerable even in their own homes. Footage from the era showing half-constructed buildings and similar traces of financial collapse strengthen the period detail.