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Southeast Asian Films in Cannes

April 29, 2009
pen-ek directing (or being a?) nymph

pen-ek directing (or being a?) nymph

The Cannes Film Festival has announced the line-up for this year´s festival, and there is a good number of films from Southeast Asia in the program. Probably most unusual is the fact, that Dante Medoza’s Kinatay, a film about the frequent killings of dissidents and activists by the military and hired goons that has become so common under president Gloria Arroyo, is one of 20 movies chosen for the Palme d’Or competition. It will compete against Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds among others, as the Inquirer reports. Mendoza´s Serbis was screened at the festival last year, and got some very bad reviews. (One critic called it the “worst competition film in memory”.) Yet, it is the first time that a director has a film in two consecutive competitions in Cannes.

The Indie film Manila (trailer) by Adolfo Alix Jr. and Raya Martin, apparently a kind of mash-up of Lino Brocka´s classics Jaguar (1979) and Manila in the Claws of Neon (1977), will have a special screening at the festival.

Raya Martin will also show his new film Independencia in the Prix Un Certain Regard section. Martin´s A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2005), made as a thesis film at my former place of employment, the Film Institute of the University of the Philippines,  is still one of the most stunning works of the recent new wave of digital Independent Films from the Philippines.  Since then, he has produched mostly cinematic Krautrock, from filmic navel gazing (Autohystoria Trailer) to the pretentious, pointless and breathtakingly dull (Now Showing trailer) to the downright cryptofascist (Long Live Philippine Cinema!, complete film).

Independencia (trailer) might be a return to form, at least the premise is interesting. The film imitates the look of turn-of-the-last-century portrait photography with painted backdrops and black and white cinematography, as the Inquirer writes in an extensive feature, complete with an interview with French cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie. Then again, it just might look like theatre-on-film. The list of the sponsors reads like a Who-is-who of the entities that sponsor movies from the Third World, that nobody in these countries wants to see: Arte Cinema France, Fonds Sud Cinema, World Cinema Fund, Prince Claus Fund Global Film Initiative and the Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam Film Festival.

From Malaysia, Chris Chongs Karaoke will be screened in the Director´s Fortnight. The linked article claims that Karaoke is “the first Malaysian feature film in 14 years to be screened” in Cannes. However, these days Tsai Ming-Liang is considered to be a Malaysian film makers, not Taiwanese anymore, and his Visages (Face) is even in the competition.

Singapore is represented by director and visual artist Ho Tzu-Nyen’s first film, Here, that follows a middle-aged man trying to make sense of life after the sudden death of his wife who undergoes an experimental “videocure”. The director hopes that his film – that seems to be half video art and half movie – will serve as a “head trip” to the viewers.

From Thailand, Pen-ek Ratanaruang´s Nang Mai (in Thai) or Nymph (in English) will be shown in the Un Certain Regard section, as Kong Rinthdee writes in the Bangkok Post.

I recently did an interview with Pen-ek. The subject was something else entirely, but in order to break the ice, I asked him some questions about the film he is working on in the beginning. Here is what he had to say:

?: Tell me about your new film that you just finished shooting…

Pen-ek Ratanaruang: It is about this city couple, who takes a vacation in the jungle, and he falls in love with a tree. That’s pretty much it, and then we follow how the love triangle between the three of them develops. You know, the usual love story… (laughs)

?: Is it based on an old Thai story?

Ratanaruang: No, I came up with the story by myself. But there is this Thai tradition believing that trees have spirits living in them. So, if you are in the forest and you take a pee, you have to apologize to the tree on which you peed. (laughs)

?: When is the film due to come out?

Ratanaruang: The plan is to edit it in the next couple of months, and then have it come out maybe in May 2009. Most of the time, my films do not have a definite release date. I work quite slowly, and if I am not happy with my work the producers won’t be able to see it, so they don’t put a date on it.


Another piece on Chris Chongs Cannes film “Karaoke” by Sharaad Kuttan is here.

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