Sat. Sep 19th, 2020

London Film Festival Review: The arresting and experimental ‘Krabi, 2562’

An insider’s view of her home country intertwines with an outsider’s view in Krabi, 2562, an accessible experimental work from Anocha Suwichakornpong and Ben Rivers. She brings the esoteric introspection, he brings the ethnographic exploration, and the mix is refreshing, beguiling and sufficiently oblique to linger, open-ended in the memory, though not so oblique as to dissipate as soon as solutions to its curious little teases fail to materialize. From the outset, this promises to be a subtly strange, slippery movie, casually folding together uniformity with disorder, dutifulness with flippancy, forceful formal discipline with playful indifference. It’s an experimental work, though not aggressively so, sourcing its innovation from its conceptual diversity and its reluctance to signal any clear path for the viewer through its collage of creative impulses; in the diegetic material of each scene, it’s a work of simple pleasures, laid out in a relaxed, informal manner that seems to utterly erase the boundary separating documentary from fiction. Neither Suwichakornpong nor Rivers has, to date, expressed themselves with such carefree clarity in their work – this is new ground for both, and the common ground they find therein is fertile indeed.

Whether the meaning behind all the mystery in Krabi is pointed and personal or objective and analytical – whether said meaning even fully exists or not, and if so in what form – the mystery itself is a perfectly acceptable diversion over its 90-odd minutes. In fact, its essential mysteriousness is one of its most attractive qualities, whether it’s intentional or not. The directors arrange an array of figures in times and places in Thailand’s Krabi province, exploring situations of varying degrees of verisimilitude, including apparently factual encounters and cutely comic sequences involving a commercial shoot and a pair of prehistoric humans. Parallels or connections between plots are minimal, and their closest evident bond is manifest simply by forming separate parts of the same single movie. Were the directors’ artistic and technical skills not so persuasive, the lack of connective tissue might be merely enervating, not least in that the integrity of each scene would be compromised, but there’s a palpable purpose behind every artistic decision made here, even if its nature isn’t always totally plain. Again, it’s the mystery that’s so attractive.

Quite plain, however, are those aforementioned skills; I’ve seen Suwichakornpong deploy them superbly before, though for me, Krabi represents the apex of what Rivers has achieved in his career to date. Aesthetically, it’s a strikingly simple movie, almost suspiciously so, though aurally, it’s a vibrant, inventive one. Suwichakornpong and Rivers propose a new world, perhaps inspired by the province’s arresting geographical features, with an expressive soundscape that’s largely derived from off-screen sources, building a landscape that stretches far beyond the edges of the screen and into and around the audience’s minds. Somehow, an immersive trip to an exotic (for me, alas, in grey old London) corner of the world feels so familiar and so regular in their hands, though it’s filled with wondrous images and startling experiences. Softly, they take us on a grand journey through their imaginations and on to new fields of inspiration for experimental cinema, and now that I’m home again, all I wanna do is go back!

This review is from the 2019 BFI London Film Festival.

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