Difficulties in Articulation: Three Pimpaka Towira Short Films

Prelude to the General

To watch Pimpaka Towira’s short films is to contemplate silence and slowness. What is left unsaid echoes in what is said, what is left unseen reverberates through what is seen. There are difficulties in articulation, her films argue, not just because of complex personal circumstances, but also due to ominous, hidden political forces.
A screening of her short films took place as part of the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) Conference this year at *SCAPE. Towira is not only a filmmaker, but also a programme director at the Singapore International Film Festival.

Pimpaka Towira is the first female Thai filmmaker to be noticed by international viewers and critics through her feature film debut One Night Husband (2003) which brought her international fame. She writes, directs and produces all of her films, many of which are critically acclaimed. She has also been invited to serve as a jury member for many film festivals and won the Silpathorn Award in 2009, distributed by the Ministry of Culture in Thailand.

This year's NYFA screened three of her short films:

Terribly Happy (30 min, 16mm, Color, 2011)
A young soldier stationed in the troubled southern Thai region is on his annual leave to his hometown in Udorn Thani. Upon his return, he finds out that his girlfriend has settled with a new western lover in their village. He blames it on his chosen military career, and starts to get angry at her and everyone around him. But his sister reminds him that forgiveness is not a difficult thing to do, but it has to start from within.

The Mother

The Mother (15 min Digital, Color, 2012)
On the final day of her 13 year-old daughter’s funeral, the young girl’s mysterious death is still haunting the mother’s mind. She needs to find the answer for herself.

Prelude To The General (11 min, Digital, Color, 2016)
In an unspecified time and place, a young woman tries to help a middle-aged masseuse escape from an imminent danger.
Her short films are set in the Thai countryside and jungle, and revels in images of haunting nature, solitude and beauty. The peripheral is central in Towira’s work. She employs a slow cinema, one that takes its time to unfold, moving from image to image almost with a quiet agony. 

In Terribly Happy, which played at the Berlinale in 2011, a young soldier returns from patrolling the rubber plantations in southern Thailand, only to find out that his girlfriend has moved in to live with a Western man. Much is left unsaid in this 30-minute short, which hints at more sinister issues, like the politics of rubber plantations in Thailand, the creeping invasion of the foreign into bucolic village life and a man’s increasing isolation from home.

The Mother carries a similar thread of isolation, as a mother grieves in the wake of her 13-year-old daughter’s death. The 15-minute short has just two takes, and its pacing mirrors the building frustration of the mother, dealing with sorrow, bureaucracy and unanswered questions surrounding her daughter’s death. Visitors come to the funeral and sit and talk with the mother on the floor, providing the little narrative exposition the viewer grows increasingly desperate for. Where are we? Who is this “mother”? Why is her daughter dead? What is the significance of her death? Guilt and greed flicker at the edges of this short. 

Prelude to the General borrows Towira’s usual rural setting but blends her usual realistic tone with fantasy. The soundscape is rich and haunting. A woman walks alone through a deserted building, and her encounters challenge notions of what is “real.” Towira’s shots are laced with an unshakable feeling of dread and danger, the camera hides behind door frames and ornaments, lurking in the shadows. The short film is an expression of what it means to harbour a secret, and the consequences that might follow.

Written by
Sara Merican

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