Short Film Review: Digital Funeral: Beta Version (2020)

In recent years, the Thai filmmaker Sorayos Prapapan has developed a certain interesting meta-textual lexicon in his short works. Starting from 2014’s Auntie Maam Has Never Had a Passport, when a masseuse and bit part actress finds her journey to her first ever film festival impeded by the then-unfolding political demonstration that eventually resulted in a coup d'├ętat, and the establishment of a military junta that took over from deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra; to 2017’s Death of the Sound Man, yet another sly political satire and a dig at how the public’s voice is silenced and ignored by the ruling elites through a wry allegory of what goes on behind the scene of making sounds for movies; and 2019’s Dossier of the Dossier, which revolved around an aspiring arthouse filmmaker and his producer’s trials and tribulation trying to raise funds for their feature film project—an allusion to the complicated geo- and interpersonal politics of a globalised independent arts practice, and how the art cannot be divorced from the context of its making—the act of filmmaking in Prapapan’s universe has become a layered act of mimesis that corresponds directly to the real world and its fault-lines, much like a sardonic mouthpiece speaking oblique riddles about the genuine state of contemporary society.

Digital Funeral: Beta Version follows in this exact train of thought, this time in a more contemplative, formalist vein. Bypassing the pretence of fiction entirely, Prapapan documents his room, his Facebook profile, himself, and a casual journey to the rooftop where he sets up a camera just to capture himself walking away. He quotes an excerpt from Bong Joon-ho’s iconic Golden Globes acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” once in English and once in French, both through artificial speech, but with ironic subtitles for the latter. He ruminates about planning his own funeral, staging a retrospective of his own works, and muses that an exhibition of his practice would probably manifest as his bedroom—captured in lovingly detailed 360-degrees by a swivelling camera, and as expectedly messy as one would expect of an independent filmmaker hustling the hell out of the world. The boundaries and conventions of cinema may melt away, but the confessional, almost guilty core left behind is not quite the truth either—what measure is a documentary anyway, when stripped from the anchorage of a socio-political or scientific inquiry.

One senses a disturbance in the construction of a reality: a beta version presupposes an alpha build, a digital funeral is implicit of a physical one; neither of those negate the factuality of the latter, but they do present an alternate option of what could be. Sorayos Prapapan could die tomorrow (of a heart attack perhaps, maybe an errant car) and leave behind a catalogue, unfinished scripts, the latest version of the dossier for his debut feature film Arnold is a Model Student—not yet produced at the date of this review’s writing—and this film, and through all these we could piece together a facsimile of Prapapan the Filmmaker, and not be too far off the mark, but we still would not have captured any of the essential spirit of Prapapan the Existence, but that does not mean that we have not re-created a certain truth that is as pertinent as any other interpretation. Perhaps this is too much of a stretch in magical thinking for a 6-minute documentary, perhaps Prapapan was just really bored and had supportive programmer friends, or perhaps there is something left to be wondered about the traces we leave behind, and what others would think of them once there are nothing but traces left behind. Who knows, we can always have a digital funeral, ready for a live release.

- Alfonse Chiu

Digital Funeral: Beta Version is screening in competition at the Pardi di domani: Concorso internazionale of the Locarno Film Festival 2020. A viewing link is available here.

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