More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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A world of tradition, of reverence, of suspicion and ritual, confronted with a force of nature, the one represented by grandmother Taitok (Bunsri Yindi), the other within Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) : if it had not been for Ahlo’s mother Mali (Alice Keohavong), as a twin* he would not have survived, but he continues to be weighed in the balance as to whether he is a blessing or a curse, one of those self-fulfilling prophecies, in which, despite himself, he places increasing belief. With reason, given what happens in a Fitzcarraldo (1982) sort of episode, when his village’s inhabitants have been required to evacuate.
The representatives of the village have been sold a lie to get them to leave, and even Taitok, despite swearing that she will not leave, does not stay. Dressed and behaving / believing as she does, she seems a constant reminder of what has been left behind, for she is as trapped in her ways as Ahlo seems doomed to be, but we see her make adjustments.
The family leaving their home allows them to become subject to the dynamic of two other people who do not fit in, the young Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her uncle (Suthep Po-ngam), whose real name we once see, but whom Ahlo calls Uncle Purple. It is a surprise in store why that is, but he is as tremendous as the young actors, and an inspiration to Ahlo : once such inspiration means that it is best for the group of adults and children to move covertly on together, as if there appears to be anywhere to go.
Set in Laos, where the States had got involved with the Laotian Civil War in connection with the communist allegiances of nearby North Vietnam and, from 11 December 1965, ran large numbers of sorties with B-52 heavy bombers, parts of the world that we see are littered with unexploded bombs (Sleeping Tigers, as Uncle Purple calls them) and intact bomblets that had been dropped in cluster bombs, and the bombers from 50 years ago are still in the language.
Where the travellers end up, and the ever rebelliously adventurous Ahlo seeks to make his family’s and his footing secure, there is a mixture of the old and the new, of monks embracing the profane, and of beliefs in forces that can make or withhold much-needed rain. Against this backdrop, we see a struggle between mother and son with Taitok and Toma (Sumrit Warin), with mixed messages of encouragement and discouragement and a portion of blame on the side, we find Kia a complementary force to Ahlo (epitomized by the beautiful blooms, dropped on his head, with which she introduces herself), and the functionally ineffectual attempts to rein in Ahlo’s exuberance.
At the end, everyone reaches the improbable prize at the end of the rainbow, and, finally, with recognition for Toma as well as for Ahlo, the former having had to play the underdog and suffer indignation, which was a role of great inner strength for Warin under the spotlight of the more obvious potency of Yindi as Taitok. The exultation not only at the achievement, but what it means for their future, is tinged only by a momentary minor note as Uncle Purple bows out.
Maybe he has sensed that his time has come and that he has fulfilled his purpose by now in Ahlo, maybe it is just his ghost that we see, but it does not stop the film ending on a very high note, with real pleasure at the outcome.
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 20, 2014
* Think of twins, and, once one has swerved around Twins (1988), one inevitably cleanses the palate with the duos from The Shining (1980) or The Matrix Reloaded (2003), where nothing suggests that there is really anything to choose between the siblings.
One might even head out of film altogether and in the direction of The Comedy of Errors, where two pairs of twins wreak havoc (Ahlo ?). In that late sixteenth-century environment, there is nothing to suggest that any moral judgement attaches to one member of a twin over the other, and Viola and her brother Sebastian, in Twelfth Night, are not alone in Shakespeare’s world in being twins blamelessly at the centre of the action : for Anne Hathaway and he even produced twins, Hamnet and Judith.
On the other hand, although what we call the parable of The Prodigal Son is not said to concern twin brothers (as it is really about being in a relationship with a father, but also the envy of not feeling appreciated because another is welcomed home – Abel looked at awry by Cain ?), the sons are quite different from each other in their actions and attitudes, if not at opposite poles as Robert Mitchum’s knuckles are in The Night of the Hunter (1955)…
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)