With her assured second feature film, By the Time It Gets Dark (Dao khanong), Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong (b. 1976) has confirmed her place on the urgent front line of contemporary world cinema. Forming a diptych with her acclaimed Mundane History (Jao nok krajok), a meditation on patriarchy and artistic expression, Suwichakornpong’s new film partially focuses on a young woman struggling to make a film about political activism despite the opposition of the repressive Thai military regime, long at war with progressive and engaged cinema. A dream logic joins the two films, which share nonlinear structures and bewitching symmetries–characters at times seem to reappear in different form, and abrupt flash forwards are revealed as uncanny echoes of the past. As in the films of her compatriot Apichatpong Weerasethakul, phantom and supernatural beings drift across Suwichakornpong’s films, at times evoking Thai Buddhist ideas of the commutation of souls and rebirth while suggesting a cyclical and cosmological vision of history. The rich poetic ambiguity and suggestive power of Suwichakornpong’s films is embodied in their dual English and Thai titles that each carry different meanings, pointing to the open multiplicity of perspective and reading at the heart of her artistically and politically courageous cinema. – Haden GuestSpecial thanks: Dennis Lim—Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. With Arkaney Cherkam, Paramej Noiam, Anchana Ponpitakthepkij
Thailand 2010, 35mm, color, 78 min. Thai with English subtitles
Ostensibly the story of a young man coming to terms with his paralysis by an unidentified accident, Mundane History seems to focus closely on the relationship that emerges gradually from the embittered patient and his gentle male nurse. “Seems” because the film’s careful details draw our attention always to the world beyond the house where much of the action is contained. Revealed to be a frustrated film student, Suwichakornpong’s immobile hero suggestively emblematizes the difficult place of the artist in a country systematically suppressed by repressive dictatorial rule. The film nevertheless finds an unexpected freedom in its drifting structure and lyrical passages of pure cinema that could be the young man’s films, whether dreamed or actually realized, given haunting life by the melancholy music of the Malay and Thai post-rock bands Furniture and The Photo Sticker Machine. Although not censored, Mundane History was controversially given Thailand’s most restrictive “20+” rating for its single scene of male nudity. Print courtesy Electric Eel Films.
Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. With Xavier Burbano, Jelralin Chanchoenglop, Sarawut Martthong
Thailand 2006, 35mm, color, 17 min. Thai with English subtitles
Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong. With Arak Amornsupasiri, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Achtara Suwan
Thailand 2016, DCP, color, 105 min. Thai with English subtitles
Suwichakornpong’s new film bravely tackles a subject long taboo for Thai artists and writers: the Thammasat University Massacre of 1976, in which a still-unconfirmed number of protesting students were brutally murdered by the military. Rather than a head-on confrontation with the horrific incident, however, By the Time It Gets Dark takes a more nuanced and digressive path, interweaving the seemingly disconnected stories of a filmmaker researching the massacre together with those of a young pop star and a melancholy maid who drifts enigmatically throughout the film. What unites these different characters, Suwichakornpong seems to suggest, is the still-pulsing trauma of history that has been denied yet not forgotten. In its lyrical interweaving of character narrative and documentary interludes, and in its pixel-imploding ending, By the Time It Gets Dark goes further still by suggesting the limits of the dizzying image world that we increasingly inhabit and the ways in which cinema might give a safe place for local histories and personal memories to be kept alive.
Directed by Anocha Suwichakornpong
Thailand 2008, digital video, color, 3 min