The Strangeness of Being: SEA Short Films Programme 3
That Day of the Month (Jirassaya Wongsutin, Thailand)
Cambodia 2099 (Davy Chou, Cambodia)
The Wedding Gift (Jason Iskandar, Indonesia)
Vanishing Horizon of the Sea (Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Thailand)
What is individuality to a society? What are individuals to a mob? Where does the self end and the collective conscious begin? These are questions that the ambitious Programme 3 seeks to answer, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not, but always keeping in clear view the delicate balance of characters against the faceless masses.
If anything, the narratives share a startling universality: tight-strung, tense and brooding about an issue endemic to their origins.
That Day of the Month by Jirassaya Wongsutin is a sizzling bildungsroman that touches on the idea of womanhood in traditional Thailand and a delightful exploration of the sexual awakenings of two young women whose relationship shifts tempestuously between platonic love and an unwilling romance.
What is a woman in modern Thailand? A background exposition reveals the subservience expected of a woman as a wife, mother, and an element, instead of a complete and complex person in her own right in the society. All of which, hilariously offset by the sneaky and crass conversation of two schoolgirls entrenched in the ennui of a regressive lesson and the slow progression of time in a class they simply could not care less about. Self-deprecatory and bittersweet, the girls discuss their periods, a suitable metaphor for their maturation into women, and how they no longer coincide, leading to a terse if uncomfortable contemplation of one’s possible pregnancy, a product of a tryst with a teacher.
While it is refreshing to see young women with such tenacious grasps on their identities in a society more patriarchal than it is equitable, it is also similarly disconcerting to witness the almost absurdist approaches that the girls themselves undertake to examine themselves, a sentiment best summed up with a vicious if earnest statement from the pregnant one: “I’m a slut.”
Cambodia 2099 by Davy Chou discusses the political oppression of modern Cambodia and the ways that two friends seek to escape: one leaves with a whimsical and possibly metaphorical dance ‘to the future’ and the other via a much more conventional plane ticket to the United States.
A tragicomic take on the idea of departure, this film identifies the fatalism inherent in an oppressive society and runs away with it, contrasting the bright and cheerful colors of the environment and characters with the darkness of being stuck in a system that is just not quite right.
While not as subjected to its flights of fancies, the steady progression of tension in the film is indeed directed by its whims and builds up spectacularly to a point of anti-climax where there is no closure and no absolution to the anxious concerns of its characters. This proves itself to be, if anything, a poignant consideration of the true nature of leaving: a sudden, abrupt, dangerous shift where one never really find one’s feet in the end.
The Wedding Gift by Jason Iskandar shows a darker side of marriage and the idea of betrothal in rural Indonesia with a surrealistic bent on the families of both bride and groom ; who are never quite present despite their seemingly omniscient involvement in the wedding preparation.
A stunningly (a pejorative and a praise in this case) filmed piece, it mediates on the nature of family involvement in a ceremony that is both intensely personal and public: a wedding. In a twist on the traditional practice of the revealing the hustle and bustle of the wedding day, the lack of physical presence of the family members for both parties highlights the isolation that both bride and groom experience as they were reduced from being members of a family to being set pieces in tradition that cares much less about them as it does for the idea of them.
For a more interesting case, one would be well tempted by Vanishing Horizon of the Sea by auteur Chulayarnnon Siriphol. A haunting visions of how the self forms and reforms around the mutability of memories, it stays with the audience until long after the screening, bringing to mind the strangeness of the identities that we maintain amidst others, different yet oddly symmetrical.
Fittingly, the films in this particular programme play well with each other in terms of their thematic ideas and grows organically, dangerously even, into a cohesive whole of enchanting visuals never quite overshadowed by their narrative depths.