Cinema, politics, censorship

12 01 2022

We thought readers might be interested in The New Yorker’s piece on director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It is a beautiful story about beautiful cinema, and which is only tangentially about politics. Here’s some clips on politics:

Apichatpong, from Wikipedia

“Uncle Boonmee,” like all of Weerasethakul’s films before “Memoria,” was shot in rural Isaan, in northeastern Thailand, the director’s childhood home. Although he was born in Bangkok, in 1970, he grew up in the provincial northern city of Khon Kaen, where his parents, Aroon and Suwat, both ethnically Chinese, worked as doctors. The area, as the scholar Lawrence Chua observes, is “a historically obstreperous place . . . the site of several anti-state rebellions,” which is still rebellious “due largely to its historical isolation, poverty, and lack of infrastructure.”

“I am from this region that is very looked down on from the center,” Weerasethakul told me. “So there is this feeling of—how do you call it?—that you’re like a second-class citizen or something.”

… Weerasethakul had been hitting a wall in Thailand for some time by then. In 2007, in a brilliant essay titled “The Folly and Future of Thai Cinema Under Military Dictatorship,” the director described how he had taken part in a seminar with members of the Ministry of Culture and other groups to discuss the content of Thailand’s new Film and Video Act, which would replace one that had been passed in 1930. Weerasethakul, who had just been told by the censorship board that he needed to cut four scenes from “Syndromes and a Century,” was, he wrote, “enthusiastic to read the draft of the new law, which was supposed to represent our new hope for freedom of artistic expression.” But that hope was soon dashed. Reading the new Film Act, Weerasethakul said, he came across “a number of issues” that disturbed him, including the stipulation that “filmmakers must not make films that undermine social order or moral decency, or that might have an impact on the security and pride of the nation.”

Following the 2014 military coup,

Disturbed by his government’s shaky situation, Weerasethakul felt that he needed to get away. When we met in Chicago, he told me that he was eager for a new challenge. “Partly because I’m getting older, coupled with the fact that Thailand has become a dictatorship,” he explained. “There’s many things I want to do in Thailand, but, at the same time, they won’t let me. Maybe it’s time to go somewhere.”…

“I can’t help but think that the gentleness and the smile is an evolution to survive under the oppressive regimes,” he told me. “Thailand always promotes itself as a sole country in the region that has never been colonized. But to me the people [have] been operating with fear, in full awareness of the power from above, central government, and even from the invisible forces like ghosts and karma. Living here is a complex compromise. Sometimes you don’t even notice that you do [a] particular action out of fear. You sometimes feel free[d] by the spell, the propaganda, and you are actually happy. But when you ask what you cannot do in this country, the list can be long. Sometimes I feel like I am an obedient dog.”

He’s back in Thailand.


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