In this issue:
New on DVD: Released in March 2006
Reviews by Angela Pressburger
Wonderful Thai film on the cultural importance of music: The Overture
Hit stage play that actually turned into a good movie: The Dying Gaul
Two of our favourite classics finally released on DVD:
Kind Hearts and Coronets and Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings in the World)
Two documentaries that will set you thinking:
Port of Last Resort and The Last Victory
2004, Thailand, 104 min., subtitles
Director: Ittisoontorn Vichailak
Thailand's submission for Best Foreign Feature Oscar, 2004; Won Thai National Film Awards for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Screenplay, Sound and Supporting Actor, 2005
One of our favourites on the 2004 festival circuit, this is the story of Sorn, a gifted “ranard-ek” (a sort of bamboo xylophone) player in early 20th century Thailand, a time when musical competitions on the instrument are the high-point of the country's culture.
Left to his own devices as a young boy, Sorn develops an uncanny ear for the sounds he hears in nature and develops them into an innovative music style which eventually wins him the national championship and a place at court in the King's orchestra where he becomes the country's most revered musician. Time passes and the golden age of the ranard-ek is over and the Thai government wants to ban all traditional culture in favour of more "civilized" modern pursuits. As an old man, during World War II, Sorn finds himself defending the traditions and loyalties he promised to uphold as a youth to the "barbarians," the soldiers who invade his country, his house and his music.
This is a compelling portrait that deftly braids the parallel narratives of Sorn's coming-of-age as a musician with his adult struggle against his government's ban on the traditional arts. The star of the film is the music itself, and the idea that the arts and creativity are necessities of life, uplifting our spirits and making us more human.
The Dying Gaul
2004, USA, 105 min.
Director: Craig Lucas
Recognitions: Nominated for Grand Jury Prize, Sundance, 2005
Based on director Craig Lucas’s play of the same name
Robert, a playwright who has recently lost his long-time partner, Malcolm, to an AIDS related illness, is convinced by a Hollywood producer to compromise his work for money: for a million dollars he will change his homosexual script, The Dying Gaul, into a heterosexual story. Hating himself for caving in, he seals his devilish bargain with the single stroke of a computer-key, replacing the screenplay's 1,172 Malcolms with the name Maggie. Jeffrey, the producer, is pleased and invites Robert to his home to celebrate. Despite his talented wife, Elaine, and two delightful children, Jeffrey is soon revealed to be a closet-gay and he and Robert begin an affair. However, Robert has confided to Elaine that he spends a lot of time visiting gay internet chat rooms as a distraction from his grief for Malcolm.
A sometime Buddhist, Robert is fascinated by what he describes as "all this karma colliding and going nowhere." Fascinated, and with time on her hands, Elaine gets the name of his favourite site and, using a fictional identity, soon becomes one of his regular correspondents.
The film proceeds with parallel affairs, one real, one virtual until Robert reveals that he is having an affair with his boss, who is married with two children … this is the turning point of the story. Elaine begins to play out her own mind games on the unsuspecting Robert, with disastrous results – although not necessarily what we might expect. As the shallow Jeffrey says: "You can do whatever you want, as long as you don't call it what it is."
This film is a merciless satire of traditional Hollywood, brilliantly set to a brittle oscillating score by Steve Reich, which only enhances the precision of the interlocking plot with its high-strung conversations and ominous hidden agendas. The characterizations are at once poignant, ironic and filled with acerbic wit. This is a film that will haunt you long after you leave the screening.