Review: Unconsoled @ Thai Short Film & Video Festival


Symbolic of a sense of freedom without restraint, horses are often used to portray a character’s struggle against their restrictions. Their fates are typically intertwined with the characters', and horses can even function as a metaphor for strength and a headstrong demeanour. Le Bao’s Unconsoled features a horse throughout, giving the animal an independence from its human counterparts, including scenes of its own. And rightfully so, because this is a story about absence and aging.

Throughout the 15 minute short, Le Bao focuses on the connection between three generations of women and the past that seems to haunt them. Characters often relay stories of their past experiences to the youngest character Mien, and the stories aren’t blissful. These are melancholic memories, ideas which we come to accept as being true instead of what we actually wanted. Mien’s father speaks about watching his own father beat his mother and doing the same to his wife, while her mother recalls living with her father, who could not stop screaming in pain.

These characters are reflecting on the family’s past, but unable to release their anger. Unconsoled feels as if it is being gripped tightly from the outside, left without solace or comfort in the face of the present moment. There is tension throughout the story, which never gets alleviated from both the audience members and the characters themselves. But it is a powerful experience. It does not feel strenuous on the viewer’s mind. It is peaceful and serene through its own desolation.

Le Bao isolates the story from the outside world. There is no sign of life other than the main family and feels like an underground tale from far away, where time does not pass and states do not change. It gives the entire film a feeling of being inside a snow globe or some sort of ship-in-a-bottle. This environment would not be encountered by anyone else and it feels as if it would be strange to reveal to these characters that they are actually being recorded. Nowadays, so many of us feel like we are the heroes of our own story. But in Unconsoled, the characters reside in the shadow of their family’s past, almost defined by their absences. And it is precisely this characteristic which makes the story so intriguing.

The environment is equally captivating, and it is coloured beautifully. The blue sand within and surrounding the house stands out against the browns, greens, and greys of the rest of the shots. You are drawn into this world, if only for its aesthetic. It is soothing and calming, but feels awfully foreboding. It never brightens up, never lets light into the story. And the characters carry this with them, the loss of their family a constant indication of what might come next.

Isolation is scary, and while Mien and her mother have each other and the horse, it is impossible to say that this state of affairs will be sustained forever.

At the end, it is the horse who leaves. The freedom has been lost. The entire scene plays out so humanly it seems almost too good for words. As the horse leaves, it is all saddled up as if it is packing for the future. It hesitates and looks at the house for one last time, as if considering whether or not this is the right choice. Finally, it turns around, actively choosing to leave familiarity behind. Whether this is a release of tension or a tightening of it is for the audience to decide.

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