×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Malila: The Farewell Flower’

Thailand's official Oscar submission is a sensitive spiritual drama that unusually fuses gay romance with Buddhist healing.

Director:
Anucha Boonyawatana
With:
Sukollawat Kanaros, Anuchyd Sapanphong

1 hour 35 minutes

At first, you can just about smell the jasmine wafting delicately off the screen in “Malila: The Farewell Flower,” a restrained, quietly sensuous study of gay desire, grief and spirituality from Thai writer-director Anucha Boonyawatana. A little more accessible than her 2015 debut feature “The Blue Hour,” but building on its enigmatic, opalescent queerness, Boonyawatana’s follow-up is meditative to a quite literal degree, braiding the emotions upturned by two men’s star-crossed romance with one of the lovers’ journey into Buddhist monkdom to increasingly sober effect. Already well-traveled on the festival circuit, where it’s been a particular staple in LGBT-oriented showcases, “Malila” is also Thailand’s submission for this year’s foreign-language Oscar; its blend of melodrama and Weerasethakul-evoking mysticism should continue to find appreciative audiences on VOD.

Though its gentle, lapping rhythms are contained in a trim 95-minute framework, Boonyawatana’s film demands patience of its audience in the early going, as the shape and stakes of its time-fractured narrative emerge gradually from its initial observations of cultural ritual and nature at rest. A seductive opening scene, shot in shimmery closeup, details the painstaking process of making bai sri — exquisite, ornately hand-crafted towers of intricately folded banana leaves and threaded flowers, the creation of which is meant to foster mental and spiritual strength. Yet as sensitive young bai sri artist Pich (Anuchyd Sapanphong) notes upfront, the jasmine blossoms he uses begin to wilt even before the spectacular structure is complete.

The symbolic resonance of this rueful observation soon becomes clear enough in a film dedicated to the simultaneous beauty and cruelty of impermanence: Pich, it turns out, is stricken with lung cancer, and has refused further chemotherapy to die at his own pace, with only herbal remedies to ease his suffering. This serene exit is given a slight jolt, however, by a chance reunion with his former lover Shane (Sukollawat Kanaros), who is already in a state of mourning following the death of his young daughter — which has in turn put paid to his marriage. As the men rekindle their relationship, the history of which is revealed in passing remarks and glances, both men must reconcile the pain of the present with unresolved burdens of the past: For Pich, his life is a bai sri to be completed before its crumbles altogether.

For Shane, with life still stretching formlessly ahead of him, this unexpected romantic encore (albeit destined for another, imminent heartbreak) spurs him into pursuing the holy life he has long been contemplating: After losing a child and a lover, he reasons, becoming a monk will help him understand and accept the fragile nature of existence. “Malila” is certainly unusual in its equally sympathetic articulation of gay love and religious calling, but Boonyawatana threads that needle with some grace, her hushed, sense-led visual storytelling treating one form of devotion with as much tender reverence as another.

The men’s love scenes, while not explicit, are quiveringly tactile, with the smallest act of intimacy (even a head laid on a clothed shoulder) shot and played with a fine awareness of silent sensual communication. As Shane’s Buddhist explorations delve further into the spiritual and literal wilderness, meanwhile, Boonyawatana’s bodily imagery turns surprisingly violent, to viscerally cathartic effect. Despite the early promise of all those gorgeous bai sri, the director and cinematographer Chaiyapruek Chalermpornpanich — painting in soft tones of skin and foliage — aim for something harder and earthier than the decorative yoga-retreat mysticism that westerners may associate with Buddhism. In “Malila,” even inner peace isn’t always pretty.

Film Review: 'Malila: The Farewell Flower'

Reviewed online, London, Dec. 16, 2018. (In Busan, Hong, Gothenberg, L.A. Outfest festivals.) Running time: 95 MIN.

Production: (Thailand) A G Village Co-Creation Hub production. (International sales: Reel Suspects, France.) Producers: Anucha Boonyawatana, Kaneenut Ruenrujira, Jutamas Kawchat, Donsaron Kovitvanitcha, John Badalu. Executive producers: Kritbodee Ruengrujira, Kriensak Supaibulpipat, Sukticha Tanjaroen, Nivadee Jaroensitipun, Siriprapa Kanakorn.

Crew: Director: Anucha Boonyawatana. Screenplay: Boonyawatana, Waasuthep Ketpetch. Camera (color): Chaiyapruek Chalermpornpanich. Editors: Boonyawatana, Chonlasit Upanigkit, Lee Chatametikool. Music: Chapavich Temnitikul.

With: Sukollawat Kanaros, Anuchyd Sapanphong, Sumret Muangput.

More Film

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content