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March 05, 2009

Wonderful Town

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Aditya Assarat - 2007
Kino International Region 1 DVD

While most people were paying attention to the Academy Awards, the Thai film industry had its own industry award show. The big winner of the Subanahongsa Awards was Wonderful Town. What makes the slew of awards more remarkable is that the film film was a true independent production without the backing of any of the Thai studios, and was screened in limited release in Thai theaters. Wonderful Town also is unlike most Thai narrative films currently being made. While more polished, there were aspects of the film that reminded me of some of the "mumblecore" films, with the simplicity of the story and story-telling, especially in the trust of allowing stillness and quiet, of letting images speak for themselves.

Ton, a young architect, is in a small coastal town in southern Thailand. His job is to nominally supervise the reconstruction of a resort damaged by the tsunami of 2004. He stays in a run down hotel further in town, run almost single-handedly by Na, a young woman who inherited the hotel from her parents. The hotel is virtually empty as is the town which was decimated first by a tourist industry that concentrated on the beach, and again by tsunami that destroyed the beach. Ton states that he stays in the hotel in town because it is quiet. While there, he begins flirting with Na, a relationship that eventually becomes more serious between the two.

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Aditya's film is in part about the act of observation. The first shot is of the waves on the beach, followed by a close up of Na sleeping at the hotel desk. The music score is from an understated acoustic guitar. Very little is stated outright, either by Aditya or his characters. Na's romantic longing for Ton is shown by a shot of her hand caressing the bed that Ton had slept in. The influence of Apichatpong Weerasethakul can be seen in some of the exterior shots, the sound of the wind while it pushes against the overgrown grass. One of the most pleasurable images is of a barefoot child, unseen under a raincoat, kicking puddles in the rain.

One scene that marked Wonderful Town as inescapably Thai was when Ton looks into a house next to the rebuilt resort. Before stepping in, Ton is warned that the place is haunted. Even when they are not manifest, ghosts, or even the idea of possible ghosts, are firmly embedded in Thai culture. Ton walks through the damaged interior, picking up and discarding the few reminders, such as a book, of the former residents. Damaged by time and disuse is the former home of Na, one of the crumbling reminders of a more prosperous past. Ton is viewed with suspicion by the residents of the small town not only because he is an outsider, from Bangkok, but because he represents a future that can not be stopped, further distancing the town from the modest success it may have held previously.

Na mentions that she had a college education in one of the cities. She never explains why she returned to the small town, although it is suggested that it is because of the sense of family obligation. Her brother also remains in the town, seeming to do nothing more than mark time. Even Ton is revealed to have not fully escaped from his previous career as a musician. In Wonderful Town, the past determines the present lives of the characters, whether they consciously try to rebel or resign themselves to what appears to be a predestined fate.

Here is an interview with Aditya Assarat.

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Posted by peter at March 5, 2009 12:21 AM

Comments

This looks beautiful. I saw a wonderful Chilean film, The Sky, The Earth, and the Rain, that was all image and silence. It was my favorite film of the 2008 CIFF. Do you know about DVDs or distribution for this film?

Posted by: Marilyn at March 5, 2009 01:04 PM

I am unfamiliar with El Cielo, La Terra Y La Lluvia. From what I have gathered, the film has played several festivals. IMDb has it available as a Swiss (?) DVD. I'll try to keep a look out for it. It seems like the kind of film that would be picked up by Film Movement or Facets for DVD here.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at March 6, 2009 12:15 AM