« The Slave | Main | Coffee Break »

October 09, 2014

Chanthaly

Chanthaly-Poster.jpg

Mattie Do - 2013
Lao Arts Media DVD

An admission here, that I have exchanged emails with the director and am a Facebook friend. If that doesn't bother you, read on . . .

Living even a few months in Thailand provided enough of an impression on me. Between the movies, with what seemed to be a new ghost story every other week, and just walking by the little ghost houses scattered throughout Chiang Mai, I started adapting the attitude that, yes, ghosts were among us, and as long as you don't bother them, they won't bother you.

Even though the basic premise of the Lao Chanthaly is similar to that of Thai films, that ghosts live among us, that is the extent of the similarity. No one runs around screaming hysterically. Nothing here to make the audience scream or laugh, or scream followed by laughter (and nothing compares to watching a Thai horror movie with a Thai audience). If anything, Chanthaly is more similar to Alejandro Amenabar's The Others, with the idea that ghosts live among us, but in a parallel environment within the same space.

chanthaly-2.jpg

The title character, a young woman, has a combination ghost house and altar dedicated to her deceased mother. Has she actually seen her mother's dead body, fifteen years earlier, the result of suicide by hanging, or is the a false memory? Her father insists that Chanthaly's mother died shortly after giving birth to Chanthaly. At various points, the viewer is teased into not being entirely sure about who is telling the truth. Chanthaly lives in virtual seclusion with her father in a firmly middle class house, providing a small laundry service from home, but otherwise never leaving the premises. Diagnosed with a weak heart, she is locked in, as she is told, for her protection.

While Chanthaly has been noted as the first horror film in the Lao language, the horror elements are minimal. What caught me off guard was that Mattie Do, and screenwriter Christopher Larsen eschewed many of the conventions one comes to expect from seeing a ghost story from Southeast Asian filmmakers. The first hour, especially, is closer to the more highbrow psychological horror films that more frequently garner critical attention.

The argument presented by Chanthaly's father and a doctor who treats her, is that a belief in ghosts is superstitious. For myself, as a Buddhist, I had to wonder what kind of karma would visit the father after he knock's down Chanthaly's altar. Some of the choices in the narrative were probably determined by the extremely limited budget, shooting in one location, with five actors and a dog. For those who have some kind of belief in the afterlife, Chanthaly suggests some reassurances. For others, this can be appreciated as a solid first film.

Posted by peter at October 9, 2014 06:32 AM