16 septembre 2007

Afternoon Times (2005/Boonsinsukh)

File 067/Afternoon Times (2005/Tossapol Boonsinsukh/Thailand) ++

Opening Sequence : The voice of the protagonist, Bo (Pijika Hanzedkarn), is heard without image talking on the phone (pitch black screen). The offscreen conversation carries on over a stationary frontal shot of a wall scattered with photographs of friends, in dim light. We understand that Bo is opening her new cafe soon and invites various long-forgotten acquaintances to the inauguration. The camera pans to reveal Bo through the kitchen door. The long take captures a mundane activity in real time, as she hangs up, looks for the next number, dials again, and repeats her attempt. The mood of the film is set with a simple shot which contains the heart of the drama. Solitude, estrangement, nonchalance and lack of attention.
Bo, in her early twenties, engages in a new life, by starting up her own business. It's the dreaded time when everyone we used to know follow their own path, travel, move abroad, work intensively or found a family. College friends lose touch and begin a solitary life on their own, building a new social network in a new social environment.
Her friends are all there with her on the wall, nostalgic memories, still fresh in her mind, with the frozen smiles and funny faces posed for the camera. But all belongs to a bygone era of carefree entertainment. Now she's alone, desperately seeking for available friends, like a market researcher, to share her joyful pride with. She would like them to launch the word-of-mouth and bring in many customers. Unfortunately the calls we overheard don't seem very successful. She's got more friends on photos than real people in her present life. A sentiment of profound abandonment sinks in, with remarkable restraint, as the shot keeps on running long after the phone calls are over, staring at her walking around in silence.

Afternoon Times is a beautiful little film made by students with the most basic production equipment to the greatest effects. The creativity of a sobre mise-en-scene, the daring transcendence of small moments, the mundane poetry... all make it an adorable, melancholic episode suspended in time. The very prototype of the Contemplative Cinema trend. Like a haunting memory revisited intact, stripped of superfluous details, these characters are caught in a strange whirlpool of redundant events. Repetition and variation.
The careful observation of minimal gestures throughout the day recalls Chantal Akerman's film which was one of the most important pionneer of "Contemplative Cinema" : Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1976). Likewise emphasis is put on body language of non-speaking people. Stationary shots frame the situations in self-contained tableaux, that render the presence of a "surveillance camera" invisible while bringing attention to the private life happening in front of our voyeur eyes. We can see what people do when nobody is looking at them, when they don't have to play a social role in front of someone else. A perspective also featured in the segments of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times (2005).

A brownish, darker evening light dominated the introductory shot, a feeling of anxiety and despair caused by the anticipation of her café grand opening. Later, a brighter sunny morning light shines on the film, tinted with a metallic blueish hue celebrating its fresh, acid, melancholic, surreal atmosphere. Congratulations to the cinematographer (Nalina Tungkanokvitaya) who does a wonderful job with natural lighting.

A delivery boy brings a baguette every morning. He's the only person Bo becomes familiar with along her redundant routine. Although their contact is strictly professional, regulated by a polite yet reserved, even timid, etiquette. Without a word he hands over the bread, she gives a banknote, he returns the change. A long trained composure. An automatized ceremonial.

The photographic memorization motif, which structures the entire film, will come as an ice-breaker for them. Upon one of his delivery he's asked to take a picture of her with her friends to immortalize the inauguration of the café. I love this type of microcosmic scenes encapsulating unspoken emotions into unsignificant acts, which we find aplenty in Miranda July's Me And You And Everyone We Know (2005) for instance. In this world of lonely disconnected individuals, every little task is an opportunity to meet with somebody else's private sphere and hopefully to step in for an instant in their sealed bubble, if the situation is not too awkward of course. Here, the favor to take a group picture for her becomes a tacit connection. The polaroid camera is used as a proxy device for interpersonal socialization with a total stranger, like with a lighter or a watch in the street. She asks "Can you take a picture for me?", but what she really means is "Hey, take a look at me please!"

This central theme of self-representation, announced in the opening shot, fully expresses the distanciation of human relationship in today's virtualized world. Without the polaroid they are confused strangers looking at their feet ashamed of themselves. But hidden behind the camera viewfinder he could lay his gaze upon her. Conversly, under the excuse of posing with her friends, she can show off her largest smile without obviously seeming to seduce him. The self-esteem is preserved for both of them.
Even though they are not aware yet of this blooming romance, the film catches there the pre-historic, founding moment of their future bond. She puts up the polaroid picture on the wall, with the other pictures. But what it stands for is less the friends we can see on the image than the invisible photographer who took it.


After this defining moment, that will only become meaningful to them and the audience later on, the daily routine and the recurring scenes will unfold according to the slow pace of time flowing by. Careful shots of dishwashing, window cleaning, housekeeping in silence and solitude. Times of inner ruminations, patient wait and reverie accompanied by the absorbing melody on a diegetic cassette with classical music. A catchy repetitive soundtrack reminiscent of Kikujiro (1999). Meanwhile the short length of this one music track marks the passage of time, as she has to rewind the cassette manually to repeat the play. Another little task indicative of the actual duration of life moments. Another opportunity for him and her to connect through a common taste for this music.

The whole story is articulated in seasonal chapters entitled "Afternoon Times", "Summer", "Rain", "Winter", "Summer later"

In a funny scene, Bo dresses like a tourist, with sunglasses, backpack, camera, and pretends to visit this splendid café for the first time. She contemplates cautiously every little object decorating the place, with a self-satisfied admiration, projecting into this fictional character the ideal customer she'd like to serve if the turnout wasn't so poor. She then unpacks her sleeping bag on the floor and stares at the ceiling. It's nice to remember a similar scene in Me And You And Everyone We Know when the kids wondered what it would be like if the world was upside down.

On a rainy day, he's soaked and she gives him a towel. Is it because the light is darker, because the rain pours outside, because the wet clothes wear out the usual respectful distances, or because of this tender gesture showing care? After so many meetings at regular hours for the bread, they seem to look at eachother with different eyes this time. No word spoken yet, no effusion of sentiments. Just a memorable moment shared intimately, the secret happiness of being together. An awkward silence extended indefinitely, planted face to face, which would normally make anybody uncomfortable. Though none of them seems in a hurry to break this tensed silence. They soon return to their lives without uttering a word.

The cassette jams in a bundle and so begins the time without music.

The next visit, surrealism creeps in for a moment of arrested poetry. Within the uncut course of a long take stretching over 6 minutes, they are mysteriously locked inside when he delivered the bread. The locksmith can't even rescue them because rains is still pouring outside. By a welcomed enchantment they are miraculously stuck together for a while. They resolve to wait, and she offers to cook a meal for him. The strange ways of fate has kept them close together for a longer time than their usual commercial transaction. As oddly as it occured, the temporary spell is broken when he finished his food and the door now opens naturally. He wondered why the habitual music wasn't playing and promises to bring her a new tape. But he doesn't come back the next day, someone else's delivers bread.

She paints dozens of childish drawings representing a fish, a horse, a camera (again the motif of self-representation), countless rows of dashes... and a delivery boy with a baguette in a bag. She loses appetite. Her business is running down. She has to move out. The walls are covered with copies of the same drawing of the delivery boy, like the identical frames of a film strip, like a dismantled cartoon. The paintings have replaced and covered up the photos on her wall. A new medium of representation illustrates the memories of her second life, leaving the photos behind.

Another uncut long take runs for nearly 15 minutes for the second last scene. In one plan sequence the whole set is packed into boxes, just like if the shooting was over, she clears the borrowed premises, helped by a friend. All drawings are picked up one by one, all pictures, and decorative objects. When he asks why she paints, why she takes pictures, she replies "to kill time", "no particular reason" to futher burry her feelings and regrets...
We realize that life is like a movie production, good times are like afternoon times, they last only a while and then we have to move on and get over them. Memories fit in a little box.




The closing shot, brings back the music in the film, after a long silent shot onboard a taxi, showing a close up of her disillusionned face. Her music, their music, re-appear in non-diegetic form, as if the cassette was playing in her mind, and puts a gentle smile on her face. The film considers the archiving of vain memories, as well as the unconscious, intangible making of important ones. The smallest moments of life we never pay attention to, which slam back in our mind when the loss become more sensible. This is a delicate and touching expression of the construction of our sentimental personality.

(s) ++ (w) ++ (m) ++ (i) +++ (c) +++
  • If you're interested in seeing this student film (not yet available commercialy), please contact directly the director, TOSSAPOL BOONSINSUKH, at this email.

P.S. My apologizes to Tossapol for taking so long to finally write up this long overdue review. And many thanks to CelineJulie at Limiteless Cinema for recommending this beautifully contemplative film.

9 commentaires:

celinejulie a dit…

--I think your review on AFTERNOON TIMES is the first English one in the world. Moreover, you have noticed many things I didn’t notice or think about. I didn’t notice that the opening scene can tell so much about what the rest of the film will be like. You are very observant.

--Tossapol also made a short film about a restaurant. It’s called SHE IS READING NEWSPEAPER (2005). The film has three characters. The first one is a girl who is reading a newspaper in a restaurant. She seems to be happy reading by herself. A boy is sitting at the same restaurant, looking at the girl reading a newspaper. He also seems to be very happy just by observing this girl. The third character is a waitress. She seems to be very happy observing the girl and the boy. Then she thinks about a clear blue sky.

I also love SHE IS READING NEWSPAPER very much. One of the reasons is that each of these three characters is “alone”, or seems to make no direct contact with other persons, but each of them is “happy” in his/her own way, and that sets this movie apart from many Asian films which are full of many lonely miserable characters.

--I also like face of the heroine of AFTERNOON TIMES when she is cleaning the window very much. That face seems to be very sad, and it broke my heart when I saw it.

--I think there are many films which are about people just graduating from university, but AFTERNOON TIMES is still very different from many of them. Many films in this sub-group are about problems in adapting to the workplace, problems with selfish bosses, and problems in applying for work. But none of the films I saw can deal with loneliness as intensely as AFTERNOON TIMES.

--As for the ice-breaking scene in which she asks him to take a photo, I admit that I didn’t remember this scene or didn’t think much about this scene when I saw it. But after reading what you wrote, I just realized that I sometimes did something like this myself. Hahaha. When my friends and I are on the beach and meet some interesting strangers, we sometimes ask them to take a photo of us. It’s great that you noticed this scene which I had overlooked.

--I also like the tourist-imitating scene very much. It’s funny, but in a way, it can be very sad. As for me, it reminds me of someone who is so lonely that she has to create an imaginary friend to talk to or to play with. The character here finds a way to amuse herself in her free time, but after that she will find too much free time, and might begin to realize that her ideal customer will never come. Her ideal customer will only exist in her imagination.


-I particularly like this sentence of yours very much

“We realize that life is like a movie production, good times are like afternoon times, they last only a while and then we have to move on and get over them. Memories fit in a box.”

I haven’t thought of this before, but I truly agree with you. I think this kind of theme might be found in many Thai short films in late 1990’s, when many Thai film students were crazy for Wong Kar-wai. But most of the films deal with loneliness, brief happiness, or cherished moments which end too soon, don’t affect me as strongly as AFTERNOON TIMES. I think most of the Thai films which deal with more or less the same issue try to “tell” this theme too straightforwardly, but AFTERNOON TIMES doesn’t “tell” this theme. It “shows” this theme. It lets the sad and lonely feelings gradually creep in. As for my personal feelings, every time Bo pulls out a piece of paper from the wall makes me feel very hurt. It makes me feel as if I saw her cutting herself by a knife—pulling out one piece of paper here is like cutting your skin one time. Some moviemakers might choose to convey this kind of sadness by having the heroine cry incessantly or do something more expressively. Fortunately, Tossapol didn’t choose that way.

--Your comment on the last scene of AFTERNOON TIMES somehow reminds me of a photo I like very much. This photo is called THEY RETURN TOYOU IN SONG (2002) by Darren Sylvester. This photo depicts a moment of remembering a broken relationship, triggered by a pop song on the car radio.


--In conclusion, I think you described AFTERNOON TIMES very very well and make me realize that there are many things in this film which can be found in my everyday life, or very close to my everyday life, or similar to my past experience. I can’t write or talk about this film as good as you do even though I write in Thai. This film is one of the most difficult films to write about, because it has very little story, very little action, no symbols to decipher. It’s just full of feelings. And atmospheric films which deal with feelings like this are very hard to be described by words. But I think you truly succeed in writing about this film and can convey the very essence of this film.

As for me, many months ago one of my friends who hadn’t seen this film asked me to describe this film. So I tried to tell her the plot of this film, but the more I tried to tell, the more I felt I couldn’t convey how great this film is. So I told my friend that it was beyond my ability to describe the beauty of this film. Now I know someone who can do it. :-)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks for your long comment. We can dig deeper in the analysis that way.
You're very flattering, I'm touched.

Tossapol sent me his short films along with Afternoon Times. but I'm afraid the file of She is reading Newspaper was corrupted, the image freezes at 1 minute and then there is only sound...

You're right, "funny" was not the right way to dscribe this scene. I thought it was a delightful break within the monotonous pace. It is indeed sad also, and tells more about her inner anxiety than about a whimsical desire to have fun. Like everything else int he film, this scene is played with a lot of restraint and subtlety, without ever going for obvious effects. We don't laugh, we only smile. And it's cute.
It's quite admirable that Tossapol says so much without using any expressive dramatized scenes.

What you say about Wong kar-wai and thai students is very interesting. thanks for adding your insights.

About the last scene, I wondered if the music was playing on the taxi radio... but since the rest of the scene is without sound (we don't hear the motor engine, the traffic noises), so I assumed it didn't come from the diegetic sounds. That she reminded this music in her memory.

I agree with you it's very difficult to write about contemplative movies, that's exactly why I started the Unspoken Cinema Blog. To try to find a new way to review movies that don't have a plot that can be described in words, or characters that are hard to define.

The absence of symbolism is also a very important characteristic of contemplative cinema, it seems. It's often to be taken at face value.

................................................................... a dit…

Hi,

that was a very interesting post, and now i want to watch the movie - only I couldnt find it on imdb?

also the short film SHE IS READING NEWSPEAPER i could not find.

?

HarryTuttle a dit…

Like I said, it's a student film. I don't think it has been released in any form yet.
If you're interested you should contact CelineJulie at Limiteless Cinema. Drop a message over there.

celinejulie a dit…

Hi, Harrytuttle

About the song in the taxi scene, at first I thought it was played from the radio in the taxi. I assumed that the silence before it is caused by Tossapol’s lack of sound recording apparatus. But when I read your review, I realize it is highly possible that it can be played in the mind of the heroine. So I don’t know for sure now where the song comes. But it’s not important for me to know exactly where it comes. What’s important is that it can be interpreted differently and I like this fact.


Since information about Tossapol Boonsinsukh is hard to be found in the internet, so I think I should put a filmography of him here.

TOSSAPOL BOONSINSUKH

Partial Filmmography

(in alphabetical order)

1..__.__.__.__.

Note: This film is shot in 8mm film format, if I remember it correctly. It’s about two people who try to communicate with each other, but they stand in the opposite sides of a railway station.

2.AFTERNOON TIMES (2005, 90 min)

3.ARE YOU GONNA MISS ME? (TER JA KID TUENG CHAN BANG SHAIMAI?) (2006)

4.THE AUDIENCE (2005, 10 min)

5.BAD MORNING (2006, 22:35 min)

6.BETWEEN US IN ONE MORNING (2006)

7.CHICKEN SMILE (2005, 14 min)

8.DANCE TOGETHER
Note: This short film was shot by a mobile phone.

9.DON’T WARM EGG IN MICOWAVE OR ELSE IT WILL EXPLODE! (HAAM EUN KAI NAI MICOWAVE DIAW RABOED TOOM!) (2005, 14 min)

Note: I intend to write “micowave” here because I think Tossapol might not misspell the word, but he might intend to emphasize the fact that this is a colloquial sentence, and some Thai people don’t pronounce “r” when they speak colloquially.

10.HAND FREE (2003, 2 min)

11.I’M SORRY (2003)

12.THE LAST SKY PASSENGER (2004, 9 min)

13.LIFE IS SHORT 2 (2006, 11:47 min)

Note:This film is a compilation of about ten short films, including

13.1 BEER

13.2 HOMESICK

13.3 HIDE

13.4 FRIENDS

13.5 THE MAN WHO TRIED TO STOP THE WORLD (animation)

13.6 IN THE EVENING

13.7 RAIN WILL COME

13.8 POD AND BEAR

13.9 DRIVEN

13.10 DOG IN THE RAIN


14.MISSING YOU (2005)

15.NICE TO MEET YOU (2005, 25 min)

16.NO ONE AT THE SEA (2005)

17.NUAN

18.THE PEN OF TEACHER ONEPEN (PAKKA KONG KRU ONEPEN) (2003, 46 min)

19.ROOM:FIELD (2006)

20.SHE IS READING NEWSPAPER (2005, 8:32 min)

21.SNOW FALLING IN MY HOUSE LATE MORNING (HIMA TOK TEE BAAN KONG POM TON SAISAI) (2004, 7 min)

22.UMBRELLA (2005, 4:09 min, animation)

23.WHEN WILL I SEE YOU AGAIN? (LAEW MUARAI RAO JA DAI POB KUN EEK SIATEE?) (2006)

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks a lot. It's a great idea to post his filmography here.

Is it ok to direct to you the people who may ask me how to view the film? Or should I post Tossapol's email here? I'm not going to pass around my DVD, because I want to keep it, and it's best if the director knows who want to see his film, to keep a direct contact between audience and director. I don't know, tell me what you think.

celinejulie a dit…

Yes, I think you can post Tossapol’s email here. I think he will be glad to know that some people would like to see his films because of your reviews. :-)

By the way, you can listen to Tossapol’s music at his myspace page:
http://www.myspace.com/coconutnutcreamcream

HarryTuttle a dit…

Cool. I've added his email at the end of my post, up there.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Celinejulie posts links to videos available online of films by Tossapol Boonsinsukh, here