Thailand’s arthouse films, frequently employing stellar craft in service of slow cinema, often struggle to achieve meaningful theatrical releases in a home market that is driven by the young multiplex crowd. But Thai cultural films are earning growing attention on the festival and international specialty circuits.
After Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s big-screen return to Cannes this year with “Memoria” and Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke’s Locarno-winning “A Useful Ghost,” the Venice Film Festival finds room for “Anatomy of Time,” the sophomore work of Jakrawal Nilthamrong, in its Horizons section.
In 2015, Nilthamrong’s “Vanishing Point” won the Tiger Award for best film at the Rotterdam Festival.
His new work charts two fragments in a woman’s life. In the 1960s countryside, against the background of tensions between the military dictatorship and Communist rebels, a young woman is imbued with the philosophies of her clocksmith father. Her romance with a rickshaw driver is shoved aside by an ambitious and ruthless army chief.
Fast-forward 50 years, the army chief is now a disgraced general on his sick bed and the woman is his wife and nurse. As she tends to her abusive husband she looks back on a mixture of loss, suffering and joy.
Nilthamrong says his film is “a tangible interpretation of a generation that is slowly fading. On one level, a deeply-felt story of a woman, and on another that of a country’s tragic past and its exploited people.” It is a tale of endurance, waiting, sacrifice and of acceptance of the choices made in the past.
In one section, the film portrays the “Young Turks,” a group of military officers who tried to force political change through a series of coup d’états between the 1960 and 1980s. But Nilthamrong says the earlier part is told from his imagination, rather than historical research. His point is that time changes all of us. Details fade. Anger and ambition lose force.
The political parallels with Thailand in the present day are unlikely to be lost on any domestic viewers. Any sense of mission that the present-day junta might have had when it seized power in 2014 has now been lost in a cloud of corruption, confusion and coronavirus. But Nilthamrong does not seem overly alarmed. This too shall pass.
“The time period in the movie can be compared to real people or events in Thai political history. But for me, the same stories happen over and over again. That’s why I choose not to explain the behind-the-scenes of Thai politics. ‘Temporary nature’ does not only apply to power, but to all things,” he says.
The Thai government’s actions, however, drove producer Mai Meksawan to set up “Anatomy” as a four-way co-production.
“It’s no longer possible for Thai independent filmmakers to get financial support at home. The government has stopped its annual film fund since 2018, so we now need to look abroad,” Meksawan told Variety.
France and the Netherlands were obvious first ports of call. “We went to the Paris Coproduction Village in 2017 and met Yohann Cornu from Damned Films who became our co-producer because he loves the director’s previous film,” Meksawan says.
“After we received Hubert Bals support for script development, we were eligible to apply for Dutch production support too, via the NFF+HBF Co-Production scheme, which requires a Dutch co-producer.” Anouk Sluizer joined after the Berlin EFM in 2018.
And when Singapore’s IMDA established its Southeast Asian Co-Production Grant in 2019, the team was able to bring Panuksmi Hardjowirogo on board, an old friend from Bangkok Intl. Film Festival days, as the fourth co-producer.
Meksawan says that the co-producers had little creative input prior to the editing stage, because the strength of Nilthamrong’s original script was what had attracted them in the first place.
Moreover, Meksawan’s Diversion production company is a tight-knit and successful team, which previously delivered 2018 festival smash (and Venice Horizons winner) “Manta Ray.”
“For both ‘Manta Ray’ and ‘Anatomy of Time,’ the main producers are me and Chatchai Chaiyon. Jakrawal [Nilthamrong] is also another producer,” says Meksawan. “Most of the main production crew are also the same too — the assistant directors, sound, art, grips and lighting. Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, the director of ‘Manta Ray,’ is also this film’s DOP.”
Due to the travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 crisis in Thailand, the director and main cast are all unable to travel to Venice and support their film.