Short Film Review: Boonrerm (2015)

Boonrerm by Thai filmmaker Sorayos Prapapan was recently made available for online viewing via the Lockdown Cinema Club, an initiative by Filipino filmmakers to help raise money for independent filmmakers in the Philippines who are badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The project introduces a programme of films from the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries to the public in a bid to raise donations and funds for these vulnerable filmmakers.


Boonrerm follows the drudgeries of its titular character, a live-in maid in Thailand who is at the mercy of her mercurial and often cruel mistress. I believe it was Buster Keaton who once observed that “tragedy is a close-up. Comedy, a long shot”. Prapapan holds steadfast to this adage in his depictions of the absurd and derogatory hoops that Boonrerm has to jump through at the behest of her mistress – he lets these scenes unfold with wry detachment, going no closer than a medium shot. It is only through Prapapan's clear-eyed formal choices are these acts of casual cruelty made amusing.


The film opens with the protagonist being tasked to lie in a dog cage where a measuring tape would have sufficed, and it only gets worse from here; by turns as callous as they are unaware, she eventually finds herself in a rubbish heap, digging to retrieve an unwanted recipe book. A gifted comic, Prapapan is patient and assured in his timings and payoffs; the wicked punchline of the trash heap sequence is only resolved in the film’s final shot, which sees Boonrerm’s mistress lazily preparing a microwavable meal. The sly final shot also juxtaposes itself smartly with its preceding scene, which sees Boonrerm and her friends feasting on a scrumptious meal, prepared by themselves, for themselves. The comment made here is not unlike the one in last summer’s audacious genre-bender Parasite, a point I won't belabour here.


The film’s most damning observation of the middle class’ treatment of the low wage underclass comes from a throwaway moment of commiseration – a senior of Boonrerm’s relating a moment of joy when she found out that her new job at the department store came with days off, as though it were a privilege or generosity. It is to Prapapan’s credit that the moment plays out with such ease and restraint, but its heart rings loud and true.

As our nation holds fast for the remaining few months of our quasi-lockdown / reopening, we mustn’t forget that for many, lockdown work from home has always been the rule of the day.

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As part of their fundraising and community engagement initiatives, the Lockdown Cinema Club programmed a one-week screening of selected Southeast Asian short films from 15-22 May. Head here to find out more: https://www.facebook.com/lockdowncinemaclub/

Written by Koh Zhi Hao

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