Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Tropical Malady - A Review

I went to see Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad) at the ICA last night and I still don't really know what to think of this film to be honest. I seem to undestand that it tells the story of two young men, one of them, a soldier, falling in love with the other (a villager) who, while he enjoys the attention, does not seem that interested. Suddenly, halfway through the film, we find ourselves in a second film (new credits are shown after the screen goes blank for a while, making you wonder it the reel broke or something) retelling of the legend of a Shaman (the villager) who can turn himself into animals and the hunter (our soldier) who is after him. While it was indeed possible to follow the narrative (or what there is of it), it felt like we were watching the rushes of another story; the bits that are left out in a normal narrative. Little moments that don't really make sense out of context.

The "love" story is very strangely told too. As far as I know Thailand is not particularly tolerant of homosexuality, yet in the film the fact that these two guys are obviously very close and touching and all doesn't seem to worry anybody witnessing this. At the same time, the "relationship" doesn't seem to go much further than very light petting (we don't even see them kiss).

The whole thing was very slow and the production values not very high. I felt like I was watching an early silent movie at times, not only because of the very scarce amount of dialogue and the fact that the second part of the film (the most striking part with the ever-present, obsessive sound of the forest as a soundtrack) tells you the story with inlaid text, but because of the way it was filmed, with certain static shots lasting that tiny bit too long and the actors becoming a bit wooden as a result.

I am still not sure what the message of the film is. It opens with a quote to the effect that we all should learn to tame the animal in us, which is I suppose, taken up in the second part. The original Thai title means "Beast" or "Monster" in English. I did get a vague sense that the second part might be some sort of metaphor for the first but the clues are far too elusive to be able to tell for sure.
All in all it is very disconcerting and while I can't say I did not like it, I can not really see what is its point. But perhaps that is its point.

Sud pralad (2004)
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Jury Prize of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

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