Saturday, 22 September 2007

Syndromes of a Censoring

Like all countries, Thailand lionizes certain things: TV stars, pretties, wealth, light skin, jatukrams, fame, men in green uniforms. However, it’s a shame that some things seem to miss out almost entirely on the veneration; especially when, in the world arena, they’re among the things most talked about when it comes to Thailand.

Take film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The Thai Board of Censors spuriously refused to approve his latest film Syndromes and a Century for release unless he agreed to remove four scenes. Few Thai filmgoers know him from Adam, even less have seen his films.

However, from film festivals to the popular press he's often lauded and applauded further afield. To coincide with the UK release, the Southbank BFI – which is London’s, and probably the UK’s, premier film institute – has seen fit to give him his own season, while a review in British newspaper the Guardian yesterday awarded it its highest 5/5 rating, calling it “profoundly mysterious, erotic, funny, gentle, playful, utterly distinctive”. The esteemed film critic who wrote it, Peter Bradshaw, believes Weerasethakul to be “approaching the league or Kiarostami or Haneke, two of modern cinema’s great practitioners”.

I don’t know about that. What I do know is that his gay themed romance and 2004 Cannes Jury award winner, Tropical Malady, was difficult, languorous, baffling and yet quite, quite brilliant. In its second half – a folktale about a shamanic shape-shifter, in which tigers and talking monkeys roam an enchanted forest - it drifted into the realm of pure, almost transcendental art. It wasn’t a perfect film, but its surrealism, its cosmic potency left me mesmerized.

Back to the review:

“If you want a film as challenging and exhilarating as the most weird and wonderful exhibition, if you are bored with all the usual boilerplate material coming out of Hollywood, or even if you're not, then this is a film for you. Try it.”

We’d love to. But, because of the authorities idiotic insistence that "sensitive" scenes involving doctors kissing and drinking liquor, and Buddhist monks playing a guitar be cut, and Weerasethakul’s subsequent and entirely justifiable decision not to allow his work to be "mutilated in fear of the system", it’s not being released here. In a country that prides itself on its artistic creativity that's both tragedy and travesty.

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